Following a year-and-a-half of disruptions brought on by COVID-19, Western Kentucky University hit the reset button on Monday by looking ahead to the new academic year.
President Timothy Caboni delivered the annual opening convocation to faculty and staff. Although a much sparser crowd than in typical years filed into Van Meter Hall for the speech, it was a return to something closer to normal. The annual address was delivered virtually last year. This year, those wanting to hear the speech could do so either in person or online.
Despite the challenges of the past 18 months, President Caboni applauded the campus for still delivering classes, conducting research, and providing what he described as the WKU experience.
“You responded to the pandemic challenges by innovating and evolving your instruction to meet the moment," Caboni said. "Those changes enabled our students to succeed.”
WKU retained 74% of last year’s freshman class, short of the university’s goal of 80%. President Caboni highlighted the challenges the lingering pandemic has posed to student recruitment and announced a $375,000 investment pool for individual colleges to attract more students.
Caboni also committed to a 2% salary increase pool this year for faculty and staff.
“Because of your performance, because of the investment from the state legislature, and because of a modest tuition increase, we’re able to provide this pool," Caboni said during his speech.
WKU created an Opportunity Fund three years ago to help meet the financial needs of students. During Monday's address, Caboni announced it had exceeded the $50 million fundraising goal and set a new target of $100 million.
He also highlighted the new First-Year Village for the incoming freshman class aimed at retention. Later this semester, the university will open the Commons at Helm Library which will include classrooms, study areas, and dining options.
Finally, Caboni urged employees to take care of their mental health, and help protect the mental health of their students.
As COVID-19 makes a resurgence, WKU is preparing to open the fall semester on Aug. 23 with in-person classes and normal operations. However, a mask mandate remains in place on the school’s campuses, as well as all of Kentucky’s public colleges and universities.