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 James Graham Brown Foundation

WKU Opportunity Fund announces $50 million goal, receives $450,000 award from James Graham Brown Foundation for retention and persistence efforts

Throughout his first year in office, President Timothy C. Caboni has classified student persistence and graduation as top priorities for the University, and he has committed to providing the support required to increase students’ likelihood of completing their degree goals.

First announced at the Investiture ceremony in April and mentioned during the Faculty and Staff Convocation today, the WKU Opportunity Fund is one of the President’s initiatives outlined in the strategic plan.

The WKU Opportunity Fund, a student-centered initiative to support recruitment, retention and experiences for students beyond the classroom, is a focused campaign to raise $50 million. The WKU Opportunity Fund will remove barriers for access to education through needs-based financial assistance. Used to both recruit and retain students, the Fund will ensure that financial need is not an obstacle to earning a degree at WKU. 

Beyond tuition support to ensure students can attend and remain in the classroom, the WKU Opportunity Fund will also enable our students to access educational experiences that might otherwise be out of their reach. It will help students attend conferences, study abroad, pursue research, participate in national internships, present papers and take part in other opportunities to help them prepare for life and work. The WKU Opportunity Fund will unlock crucial and meaningful experiences designed to enhance classroom learning that often seem unattainable to students who are struggling to make ends meet.

“WKU’s core mission is to provide access and opportunity to families and students from the Commonwealth, and the WKU Opportunity Fund will ensure that our student population can attain and experience an enriched college experience,” said Kacy S. Caboni, Director of Principal Gifts and Special Initiatives for WKU Philanthropy. “We are grateful for the support from the James Graham Brown Foundation, and we will continue to seek donor support.”

Marking the first announcement for the WKU Opportunity Fund, President Caboni announced a two-year, $450,000 grant to Western Kentucky University from the James Graham Brown Foundation of Louisville, Ky. The grant will support the creation of the WKU Center for Academic Resources and Success (WKU CAReS) to support retention and persistence efforts, part of the newly established WKU Success Center in the Downing Student Union.

“This grant will enable us, as a student-centered university, to do even more to support our students as they move toward graduation,” said WKU President Timothy C. Caboni.  “We are grateful to the James Graham Brown Foundation for their support of this tremendous partnership.”

“The alignment of available services is a critical first step to better assist students, and the University is addressing this issue with the implementation of centralized advising for all first- and second-year undergraduate students in the Advising and Career Development Center on the second floor of Downing Student Union,” said Christopher Jensen, Assistant Vice President for Student Success. “Complementing this new approach, the WKU Success Center in DSU will provide sustained, targeted advising for 200 first-generation, low-income and underrepresented minority students who receive financial assistance.”

For the identified group of students, WKU CAReS will serve as the primary resource for inquiries and academic support at WKU, providing access to mentoring, tutoring services, financial assistance, and assisting with issues preventing registration and hindering persistence.

Dr. Martha Sales, Executive Director of the Cynthia and George Nichols III Intercultural Student Engagement Center (ISEC) and WKU TRIO Programs, is serving as the Primary Investigator for the grant.

“Before centralized advising, the University stitched together a ‘quilt of care’ through several distinct programs in combination according to the needs of the student and, most importantly, the knowledge of the individual assisting the student,” said Dr. Sales. “Students do not think of the University in terms of departments, units or policies. We are all ‘WKU’ to them.

“When following up with students, the majority indicate that they were not aware that services were available and if aware, unsure of where they were located,” Dr. Sales added. “We feel that if we can assist the identified population with additional dedicated services, assistance with the transition to college, increased academic development and the creation of a sense of belonging, both the larger population and this group will be better served and student success will improve.”

“WKU has historically observed a first-to-second year retention rate of 72 percent. However, the retention rate has declined over the past two academic years, and this trend is being driven by a mixture of sources,” said Brian Kuster, Vice President for Enrollment and Student Experience. “The majority of students do not leave higher education because of their grades, but instead must contend with multiple fundamental factors such as social, emotional, fiscal, and motivational issues.”

Through WKU CAReS, one full-time Student Success Advisor will be hired and housed in ISEC to provide intensive services to students in the targeted group. Additionally, three Graduate Assistantship positions will be created to assist with advising efforts as well as provide services to all students that will include student success sessions, extended hours, and assistance with questions, navigation, and direction.

Mason Rummel, President and CEO of the James Graham Brown Foundation, notes, “This grant, intended to bolster WKU’s efforts to give students from all backgrounds the support needed to help them persist and earn a degree, aligns with the Foundation’s goals in student success. The Foundation believes that the well-being of individuals and communities is closely linked to educational attainment and is pleased to support efforts that help more Kentucky students earn postsecondary credentials.”

In addition to targeted advising, the University will explore the purchase of technology to supplement existing enhanced student success services such as enterprise-level early alert advising tools that incorporate an app to “nudge” students with reminders. These nudges are scheduled to occur at significant times within the semester to remind students of available resources. These types of applications can also provide students with notifications of holds on their accounts and include steps to resolve such barriers before registration for the next semester begins.

For more information on the WKU Success Center, contact Dr. Martha Sales at (270) 745-5066. For more information on the WKU Opportunity Fund, contact Kacy S. Caboni at (270) 745-6208.

Released: Aug. 24, 2018


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WKU News: WKU Opportunity Fund receives $450,000 award from James Graham Foundation

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