Historic $2.1 Billion Campaign Makes UK More Accessible, Enhances Research and Clinical Care


By Jay Blanton, Amy Jones-Timoney, Brad Nally and Kody Kiser

The largest fundraising campaign in the history of the Commonwealth will create thousands of scholarships to expand access to education at the University of Kentucky and to dramatically accelerate UK’s efforts to solve the Commonwealth’s most challenging health and economic issues.

The $2.1 billion campaign – Kentucky Can: The 21st Century Campaign – was announced Friday night at a special event attended by hundreds of friends of the university at the Bill Gatton Student Center.

“We were founded for the people of Kentucky,” said UK President Eli Capilouto in announcing the campaign. “This place has been – and continues to be – home to pioneers and providers, bold dreamers and strategic thinkers, who make our vision and work possible. Now, we have the opportunity, with a sense of dogged determination and boundless compassion and generosity, to write the next chapter for this university and for those we serve in the Commonwealth and beyond. 

“It is time to show the world what Kentucky can do.”

Specifically, the Kentucky Can campaign will focus on three major areas of support:

Funding 2,100 UK LEADS and other scholarships to ensure that more Kentuckians have access to a UK education and that they can graduate on time with reduced debt. The highly successful UK LEADS program is a nationally heralded initiative to eliminate financial need as an impediment to attending and graduating from the university.

“I was drawn to UK by the wonderful scholarship I was offered and rewarded with remarkable opportunities,” said Sara Khandani, a biology major from Lexington who will graduate in 2019. “I was able to participate in research, and I have access to world-class facilities and generous mentors. My scholarship is enabling me to graduate without crippling debt, allowing me to know I can pursue my dream of going to medical school.”

Endowing efforts – particularly between and among academic and research disciplines – that focus on solving the state’s most pressing challenges. Kentucky, for example, is among the nation’s leaders in opioid overdoses and deaths as well as many cancers, heart disease and diabetes. 

“Opioid addiction is a great, yet vicious equalizer. It does not discriminate based upon gender, socioeconomic status or education,” said Dr. Phillip Chang, chief medical officer for UK HealthCare. “At UK and UK HealthCare, we are working toward real, proven and effective solutions. With this campaign supporting our efforts, we can start and expand innovative therapy and treatment programs. The greatest opportunity to meet this challenge will come from UK HealthCare and the colleges across this campus, as solutions will be found at the intersection of multiple disciplines.” 

Growing the university’s endowment from about $1.5 billion to $2.1 billion in gifts, future commitments and investments, as part of an effort to fund recruitment and retention of leading scholars and continue to support development programs and initiatives that provide a foundation for the work of faculty, staff and students. 

"I was here as a graduate student, only able to earn a Ph.D. because of financial assistance, born in Kentucky, first generation to attend university.  My graduate degree transformed my life and opened a world of possibilities," said Gail Hoyt, a professor of economics in UK's Gatton College of Business and Economics.  "Now, I am here, starting my 24th year as a professor, giving back because I am thankful, enjoying the privilege of teaching 500 incoming freshmen every fall, tens of thousands of bright minds over the decades. I am here because the needs of Kentucky's students speak to me, and I teach them to use economics to improve their lives and their communities."

“No one is immune to challenges. No path worth taking is without obstacles,” said Britt Brockman, chair of UK’s Board of Trustees. “How we respond to these challenges will determine who we are, what we are able to achieve, and the legacy we leave. With this campaign, we have the opportunity to determine our future, and the future of the Commonwealth we serve.”

UK already has raised more than $1 billion toward the campaign goal. Over the next few months, kick-off events will be held in a number of cities in the region and across the country to expand fundraising efforts. 

UK’s previous comprehensive campaign – the first in its history – raised $1 billion, concluding in 2007. It focused largely on endowed faculty positions and supporting continued infrastructure development.  

This campaign is distinctive, said Campaign Co-Chair Mira Ball, for its specific focus on eliminating student debt and expanding affordable access to a UK education for more Kentuckians.

“I graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1956 when tuition was $65 a semester,” said Ball, co-founder of Ball Homes, the state’s largest homebuilder. “We need to ensure tuition doesn’t prohibit a single bright mind from getting an education. We do more for the state than ever before. I believe giving is a joy, and I want us all to enjoy the fact that we can help.”

Campaign Co-Chair Paul Chellgren said the scope of the campaign reflects the integral role UK plays in supporting the Commonwealth’s future and addressing the challenges that exist.

“The University of Kentucky is a place where the impact of your gift is enormous, immediate and profound,” said Chellgren, former CEO of Ashland Inc. “Here, a gift is not one in a sea of many. Here, we move the needle. The University of Kentucky is a place of great opportunity for me and for many. The availability of that opportunity is dependent upon us.”

The campaign also comes at a critical juncture for the university, said Mike Richey, UK’s vice president for philanthropy and alumni engagement. In the last seven years, under Capilouto’s leadership, UK has started or completed some $2.3 billion in construction of new residence halls, laboratories and classrooms, clinical care support and athletics facilities – an effort to transform the campus and to position it for growth in education, research, service and health care.

The institution, Richey said, has a strategic plan that contemplates record retention and graduation rates and an aggressive expansion of its health care and research capacity toward solving Kentucky’s most serious challenges. 

Investment in facilities is part of the equation, he said. So, too, is significant investment in students, staff and scholars and the tools they need to succeed.

“Now, we stand at a precipice, where once again we are being called to ensure our future,” Richey said. “We are beginning a campaign – and an effort that will be defined by a sense of ineffable persistence – to determine our future viability and our dreams for Kentucky.

“This campaign will build bridges for students to receive an affordable education; for faculty to teach and conduct research that inspires, heals, creates and impacts the quality of life for all Kentuckians … This is our time to determine the future we want and to create it. This is our time to ask ourselves – what is the legacy we want to leave. Together, we must. Together, Kentucky can.”

This story originally appeared in UKNOW on Sept. 14, 2018.

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