As a new academic year begins, Western Kentucky University President Timothy Caboni says the school will continue to build on improvements made toward retaining and graduating more students.
In his opening convocation to faculty and staff on Monday, Dr. Caboni said the first-to-second-semester persistence rate for students who began last fall was up four percent compared to 2017. Bigger gains were made among low-income, minority, and first-generation students.
President Caboni said WKU is close to making history on the retention front.
“If our preliminary numbers hold, we will have retained our first-year students at the highest rate since 2009. We’re one-tenth of a percent away from the highest in our history.”
Dr. Caboni highlighted many of the steps WKU has taken to see students through all four years, such as the centralized acadmic advising and the Summer Scholars program. That initiative opens enrollment to under-performing high school graduates if they come to the university for five weeks in the summer to take courses and attend seminars on overcoming challenges to success. The school welcomed 142 summer scholars last month and 116 met the threshold to continue at the school this fall.
WKU is also in process of constructing a First-Year Village on the south end of campus, which will connect freshmen with similar interests while providing them classrooms, study rooms, social areas, mentors, and pod-style housing.
While the school graduated its largest class in history this past spring, President Caboni added the work will continue as there are fewer students in Kentucky graduating from high school and an even smaller percentage of those graduates are pursuing postsecondary education. The college going rate in Kentucky is now 17 percent lower than the national average.
In his speech, Dr. Caboni acknowledged the past two years have been difficult after the school took a number of actions aimed at making the university more student-centered and efficient, including some employee layoffs and program eliminations.
"The past two years have been tough. Let me assure you, I understand how trying it has been," stated Caboni. "It hasn't been easy. I get it."
The school suspended 101 programs which affected about three percent of total enrollment, according to the school. WKU also identified 57 programs targeted for transformation in an effort to make course offerings and degrees more relavent to the marketplace.
The university has welcomed 29 new faculty members for 2019-2020, including several campus leaders. Dr. Chris Shook is the new Dean for the Gordon Ford College of Business and Dr. Tania Basta as the new Dean for the College of Health and Human Services. WKU's new Executive Vice President for Strategy, Operations, and Finance is Susan Howarth and Amanda Trabue is the new Vice President for Philanthropy and and Alumni Affairs.
The first day of classes for the fall semester at WKU is Aug. 26.