Partnerships and matching resources with community needs were among the focuses Western Kentucky University's new president discussed while he was in town recently.
Timothy C. Caboni, who earned a master’s degree in corporate and organizational communication from WKU in 1994, started his new role July 3. He attended the Glasgow-Barren County Chamber of Commerce's quarterly breakfast, after which some meet-and-greet time was allotted, and he sat down for a relatively quick interview with the Daily Times before being escorted off for a series of other meetings Friday with a variety of local leaders.
The New Orleans native most recently was vice chancellor for Public Affairs at the University of Kansas for six years, and he had been the associate dean of the Peabody College of Education & Human Development at Vanderbilt University before that. Caboni also earned a doctoral degree in higher education and policy from Vanderbilt and a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and rhetoric from Louisiana State University.
“The goal was that in the first two weeks, and this is Week 2, Day 14,” he said, “to make sure that I visited each of our regional campuses, and so I'll be spending some time on the WKU-Glasgow campus today. And Sally Ray, who is the regional chancellor here, served on my transition team, so I know very well the opportunities we have here and the terrific partners in Glasgow and Barren County for WKU,” he said.
He had visited the campuses in Owensboro and Hardin County on previous days. Caboni considers the university's online community as its other regional campus, he said.
He had also been to Glasgow before, during the five-month transition period between the board of regents' announcement of Caboni as its choice to lead the university next and when Gary Ransdell retired from the president's post after 20 years.
“For me – and this is one of the reasons I wanted to make the trip so early in my presidency – is I wanted to get a sense of each of the communities in which we have a regional campus. Each one of them is different, and doing them back-to-back-to back, the contrast and the ability to juxtapose each community makes those contrasts pretty clear,” Caboni said. “What I know about Glasgow and Barren County is that there is a tremendous need for folks in the manufacturing industry, but there also is a strong agricultural community here, and the question that I'm asking is, 'How can WKU help to elevate the local economy, provide an educated workforce and meet the demands locally?'”
Caboni said one of the challenges in higher education is affordability, and the model here at WKU-Glasgow can help address that, because students can take two years of community college and then “move right over to WKU and finish a four-year degree.”
“That keeps it more affordable. It allows people that maybe weren't thinking about a four-year degree – only thought they'd want a two-year degree – makes it really easy for them to continue an education.
We know that over a lifetime, someone with a four-year degree might make $500,000 to $1 million more than someone who had only a two-year degree or no college education,” Caboni said.
He said he is in “consistent and constant contact” with the regional chancellors, and each one does a remarkable job, and he has confidence in the work they're doing.
When he was asked about how he envisions the evolvement of regional campuses, the 10th WKU president said: “I want to make sure that every student, no matter where they are enrolled – if they're on a regional campus, if they're in Bowling Green, if they're taking courses online – that the experience of being a Hilltopper is consistent, that we all share a set of common values and understanding of the institution and that the same high quality experience that students would get in Bowling Green, that even more attention is paid on the regional campuses. All of them are WKU; it doesn't matter where you happen to be. … No. 1, we want to make sure folks have education available to them where they live, to make it as convenient as possible. We also want to make sure that … a regional campus has the ability to deliver education that is crafted and targeted to that local community.”
To that end, he said, some of the other questions he planned to asked the people with whom he would be meeting later in the day were: How can WKU be a good partner with you? What do you need from us to grow the local economy? Where are the places we could offer training, degree, certificates, to help effect job growth in Barren County? How do we partner to diversify the economy?
“With a strong manufacturing economy, the question is, 'Are there ways we can work together to grow and draw additional folks to the region – maybe tangential to manufacturing, that would create additional jobs, perhaps even additional high-income jobs,” Caboni said.
To ensure stability and growth in WKU's communities, the university has to make sure it has the correct mixture of degree and certificate programs aligned with the local economies, putting more students directly into the workforce in those locations.
During the transition period he said, he has tried to focus on understanding where the opportunities are for the institution and coming to know the communities in which it's located.
“I think there's just a great deal of opportunity for us to partner,” Caboni said. “I think one of the things WKU as a whole will do, and I visited our farm last week, is I want to make sure we re-embrace the role of out agricultural program. It's so important to the regional economy, it's so important to the alumni who came from that program, and it's so important to our young people who are interested in pursuing farming. We want to make sure every student who's interested in agriculture in this region sees WKU as the first option for them. And we're going to work really hard to re-engage the agriculture community across the state and rekindle some of those relationships.”
He said he aims to be back here often “and hopefully be part of the community. It's just a terrific town.”