The president of Western Kentucky University said one of the priorities for the future growth of the region is to encourage a community of entrepreneurs. President Timothy Caboni laid out his vision for the next 10 years during a speech at the Bowling Green Noon Rotary Club on Jan. 30
Caboni said WKU has the potential to be the center of an 'innovation hub' that combines its strategic location in Bowling Green, affordable living and the talent emerging from the school.
"I truly see our university as the connective material between Louisville and Nashville,” said Caboni. “How do we create the innovations that help young people who perhaps can’t afford to be in the Nashville marketplace come here to do their startup?”
Caboni says WKU is already woven into the region’s business, manufacturing and agricultural segments. But he said the region needs to attract more early stage investment and cultural options to convince young entrepreneurs to build their businesses and raise their families in the area. That means creating an “ecosystem” of supporting business, entertainment and social opportunities.
“I think we have to have to have the conversation around what keeps people here in Bowling Green,” said Caboni. “And for young people who graduate from WKU, one of the things they want to work in is an environment that’s kind of ‘hip’ so we want to make sure that downtown is a place where young people want to hang out.”
The WKU president also said the university is focusing on creating a stronger community on campus that supports academic and social connections from the time students arrive on campus through graduation.
One element of that plan will be the creation of ‘WKU Commons’ that will revise the library environment to fit 21st Century learning by providing welcoming space where students and faculty can have coffee, meals and study areas.
The school will also replace some outdated dorms that are not financially feasible to repair and instead create a 'first-year village' on campus that will house groups of about 30 students who share common majors or interests.
Caboni said WKU can attract more students by making sure their families understand the actual cost of attending, not the 'sticker price." He said WKU gives students an opportunity to earn a four-year degree at an average of $11,8000 a year. That’s what a family would actually pay for tuition, room and board for one year, after figuring in student loans and scholarships.
The WKU president said the school is creating a $50 million ‘opportunity fund’ to make sure students who need financial assistance can attend WKU.