UK LEADS: Helping Students Afford College

The University of Kentucky puts students – and their success -- at the center of everything.

In recent years we’ve noticed that one of the greatest impediments to student success and graduation has been financial need. With as little as $5,000 in unmet financial need, the numbers of students who move forward in their academic careers drop several percentage points.

But UK – as the Commonwealth’s land-grant institution – is determined to do something about it.

Over the next several years, under the UK LEADS initiative (Leveraging Economic Affordability for Developing Success), the university will begin to award more of its institutional aid based on financial  need.

Significant merit aid will still be offered. All current scholarships will be honored, including those on the UK admissions site this year.

Beginning next year, the university will begin shifting some institutional aid to address financial need. The initiative aligns with UK’s Strategic Plan, which contemplates moving graduation rates to 70 percent and retention rates to 90 percent by 2020. The Board of Trustees unanimously adopted the Strategic Plan in October 2015.

“We have made tremendous strides in the last five years in improving academic quality and diversity while growing the number of students we educate to meet the needs of our state and region,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “But that’s not enough. We must move more quickly and more dramatically to impact student success. Unmet financial need is one of the – if not the – biggest obstacle to graduation.

"We know that moving graduation and retention rates is good for Kentucky’s economy and it is good for Kentucky’s families. We must and we will lead.”

Importantly, UK officials said, the shift doesn’t necessarily mean that if a student was eligible for aid under a system where merit aid was the predominant award that they won’t be eligible for scholarships where need-based aid represents the majority of assistance offered.

“We know that students awarded merit scholarships often have financial need,” said UK Provost Tim Tracy. “Academic merit and financial need are not mutually exclusive.”

The goal is to focus on what Tracy says are the four pillars – or most important elements – undergirding student success: academic success, financial stability, belonging and engagement and wellness. With those pillars anchoring the realignment of the academic enterprise, Tracy reports eight licensed clinicians have been added to the 13 already in place and an additional 30 academic advisors on top of about 54 currently at UK. Career counselors, case managers and personnel at the university’s Violence Intervention and Prevention Center also are being added. In January, the institution also opened the Student Financial Wellness Center, to provide students with the tools and support they need to build a strong foundation for their financial futures.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

How will this affect me (or my student’s) current academic scholarship or financial aid?

The UK LEADS initiative will not impact any current academic scholarships.

All 2016-17 currently enrolled students receiving an academic scholarship from the University of Kentucky will continue to do so, according to the renewal criteria for their particular award. See the scholarship renewal section of the academic scholarship FAQs

In addition, 2017-18 academic scholarships will continue to be awarded as publicized on the academic scholarship website.

Am I eligible for UK LEADS? How does it work?

UK LEADS scholarships and grants will be opportunity-based awards, intended to assist students in achieving both academic and financial success at the University of Kentucky. All students continue to be encouraged to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to ensure they are eligible for all federal, state and institutional aid.

The transition to our new institutional aid policy will take several years, but our ultimate goal is to be able to provide the opportunity for more meritorious students to attend UK regardless of financial need. UK LEADS awards eligibility, criteria and amounts will be evolving over this time period, but the eventual scholarship and grant programs will likely include awards based solely on merit, others based on financial need, as well as awards that combine both academic and financial criteria.

Is UK LEADS renewable for subsequent semesters?

UK LEADS scholarships and grants are intended to be renewable awards. The length of award receipt as well as specific renewal information will be included in the award letters for UK LEADS scholarships and grants.

Does this affect students’ KEES money or any other scholarships they might receive?

Federal and state financial aid will not be impacted by UK LEADS scholarships or grants. Institutional academic scholarships and grants will also not reduced; however, subsequent awarding of a competitive scholarship may eliminate or reduce the amount of a UK LEADS award.

What should a student do if he/she believes he/she has more need than what is demonstrated in the FAFSA?

Please contact your financial aid counselor if your financial circumstances have changed or if you believe there is a discrepancy contained in your FAFSA information.

Are eligibility requirements different for out-of-state vs. in-state students?

UK LEADS award eligibility, criteria and amounts may differ for out-of-state vs. in-state students. The University of Kentucky is committed to academic and financial success for all of its students.

All students continue to be encouraged to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to ensure they are eligible for all federal, state and institutional aid.

What does this mean for merit-based awards at the University of Kentucky?

Significant merit-based awards will continue to be awarded at the University of Kentucky. The University is dedicated to attracting the best and brightest students in Kentucky and across the country, as well as ensuring that every student who enrolls has every available opportunity to succeed inside and outside of the classroom.

Is this shift in focus a national trend in higher education?

By shifting focus to include need-based aid, UK is breaking from a trend among many public, flagship institutions. We believe that the realignment better serves the needs of students throughout the Commonwealth and underscores our land grant mission.

A recent article in Inside Higher Ed, describes UK’s approach as one that will likely be watched around the country.

What is the rationale behind these changes in scholarships and financial aid?

We know that one of the biggest barriers to student success-- if not the biggest-- is unmet financial need. At as little as $5,000 in unmet need, retention rates drop by several percentage points. Last year, one-third of students who left UK had GPAs of 3.0 or higher. This is our challenge. For UK to truly place students at the center of everything we do, we must address it. The UK LEADS initiative will help us do so. This is part of a holistic effort to focus intentionally and comprehensively on student success at all levels.