During the second week of his new presidency, Western Kentucky University’s 10th President Timothy Caboni visited Owensboro’s — his first trip to Owensboro in more than 20 years — regional campus, and spent the day meeting key community figures.
This “regional campus swing” has Caboni visiting the Glasgow and Elizabethtown campuses as well, he said Thursday, because he wants to understand the context in which “we are all working” and how WKU can be helpful to regional campus communities.
He spoke with Owensboro Community & Technical College President Scott Williams, Mayor Tom Watson, and leaders in the medical community about how the university can continue to be a good partner in providing the workforce Owensboro needs going forward.
“What was evident to me was the remarkable partnership that exists already between OCTC and WKU,” Caboni said.
Currently, OCTC students have the option to complete their first two years at the community college, and the remaining two at the university.
“You can go to one campus, two institutions, and get a degree,” Caboni said. “(It) is a remarkable selling point.”
Along with the joint admissions program, Williams said the two discussed an ultimate goal: trying to raise the educational attainment level in the community, from associate degrees and baccalaureate degrees.
With Watson, Caboni spoke about the I-65 spur currently underway and how the project could bring “increasing demand for more people who have college degrees.”
“If you look at the percentage of the population in Owensboro, I think it’s about 17 percent have four-year degrees,” Caboni said. To “really grow the economy, we need human capital.”
“The other thing we noticed is that the labor market is incredibly tight,” he said. “If you are talking about 4 percent unemployment, that’s essentially full employment. If that’s the case we have to get additional individuals into the labor force.”
He said what he would like to see is a doubling of OCTC enrollment because “if that happens, that many more folks will be coming to WKU as well. So that would be good for (OCTC), that would be good for WKU, but most importantly that would be good for Owensboro to have that kind of talent available in the labor pool.”
Looking to the future, Caboni said Bowling Green’s main campus, as an institution, must ensure that every student, no matter where they take courses, is receiving the full “Hilltopper experience” and the same quality of education is delivered.
Also, he wants to make sure there is a continued conversation around determining the important values for the WKU community.
Thursday was the first time Caboni visited the WKU-O facility, which he called “state of the art.”
In 2006, when the WKU-O campus was built, Daviess Fiscal Court became one of the few municipalities to construct a place for a public university to have a presence in its community.
Before that, WKU was operating out of a half-dozen rooms on the OCTC campus.
Caboni said the facility is remarkable, and that it is the result of this community’s commitment to the institution.
“We are thankful, and I was quite impressed,” he said.
While his visit the area was quick, he called it a whirlwind, and the beginning of a conversation. For him, getting to know all of the communities in which WKU does work is an important part of leadership.
He will be returning to Owensboro soon, however.
“I didn’t get a mutton barbecue sandwich on this trip, so that’s on the list for next time,” he said.
Caboni, 47, is a native of New Orleans and most recently hails from the University of Kansas where he served as the vice chancellor of public affairs. He earned his master’s degree in corporate and organizational communication from WKU in 1994.
He also holds a Ph.D from Vanderbilt University and a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University.
Bobbie Hayse, firstname.lastname@example.org, 270-691-7315