For the first time since the coronavirus hit in March, Western Kentucky University will reopen to in-person learning next Monday.
During his annual convocation to faculty and staff on Monday, President Timothy Caboni acknowledged the difficulty of the past five months while sharing some of the school’s milestones.
In a departure from a packed auditorium at Van Meter Hall, President Caboni delivered his speech virtually to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines. While acknowledging the coronavirus as the largest challenge in WKU history, Caboni highlighted some successes in recruitment, retention, and graduation.
He announced the size of this fall’s freshman class represents the largest one-year increase in three decades, and one that is up 443 students over the same time last fall. He attributed the growth to the school’s new scholarship program which removes standardized test scores for most awards.
"With these new scholarship offerings, we increase access by decreasing cost, and reward students' hard academic work during high school," Caboni said.
WKU reduced the GPA requirement to be eligible for merit scholarships from a 3.3 to a 3.0, and increased the minimum scholarship to $2,500 last year.
Starting in the fal of 2021, standardized test scores will not be required for any student applying with an unweighted GPA of 2.50 or greater.
Last year’s retention rate of nearly 73 percent was the highest since the fall of 2013, and while the fall to spring retention rate was flat, the university posted increases in retention among minority and low-income students. President Caboni also announced a record six-year graduation rate at nearly 55 percent.
The WKU President also highlighted efforts underway to make the school more "fair, just, and equitable for everyone." Caboni announced he has convened a task force to examine the history of WKU’s namings and address those that might be controversial. President Caboni said symbols and names should reflect the university’s values.
“In many ways, the names we carve into our buildings and attach to our academic units, should define for members of our community, the best of what we’ve been, what we are, and what we aspire to be," Caboni said Monday.
Caboni added WKU will also implement implicit bias trainings, new hiring policies, and new partnerships between campus police and local law enforcement agencies.
WKU recently received the second-highest score for diversity, equity, and inclusion among Kentucky’s public universities as measured by the Council on Postsecondary Education.
President Caboni also announced Donald Smith as the recipient of the 2020 Spirit of WKU Award. Smith is executive director of the WKU Alumni Association and President of the College Heights Foundation. He is credited with raising more than $60 million during the past seven years, including gifts to build the Augenstein Alumni Center.