Over the summer President Timothy Caboni visited 31 different Kentucky counties, met with educators, county officials and local business owners to improve recruitment and retention.
During the ‘Big Red Road Trip’, which lasted from June 1 to July 30, Caboni visited the 27 counties inside of WKU’s service region. The service region consists of the counties that the Kentucky Council of Post-Secondary Education assigns to the university.
Caboni described WKU’s geographic region as “large,” but said WKU has to think about “what we do as an institution to inspire innovation and elevate the economy of South-Central Kentucky.”
Caboni said he had wanted to visit those counties during the first year of his presidency for multiple reasons.
“I wanted to know from where our students come, and you can’t understand people’s’ hometowns unless you get out from behind your desk and go visit,” Caboni said.
He said he also wanted to gather a deeper understanding of the opportunities and challenges the counties across the service reason faced, which would lead to a deeper understanding of their students.
Recruitment and retention were major goals that Caboni said he focused upon during each visit. Many county visits included a sit-down with either the city and/or county superintendent for the school districts and talked about local views of WKU.
“I was very direct and explicit with everyone we met with and told them we wanted WKU to be their university,” Caboni said. “WKU should be the first choice for all of their students, not just most.”
Caboni has previously mentioned the importance of local community colleges as a resource to prepare students for WKU. He mentioned a scholarship offered to students transferring to WKU from community colleges as a way for “them to come here and get the cost of a WKU education down to something that’s more affordable.”
Another focus was on the local economies in each of the counties. Caboni said those conversations proved to be fascination because of the variation between each place he visited.
“[The tour] was in many ways about the university but also about my education and understanding where we were situated,” he said.
Funding for the tour was provided through the use of institutional funds. The Herald requested a listed of budgetary expenses but WKU did not respond in time for publication.
“If you look at the expenses for four folks to travel for as many days as we did, we were pretty efficient with how we did work,” Caboni said. “We also didn’t eat at very many fancy places. I ate hot dogs and hamburgers in just about every town. That is also part of the strategy—to talk about how locals eat, but in some ways is also a cost saver.”
Bob Skipper, director of media relations said eating in local spots provided a way to relate to the community.
“When you have a place like Dovie’s in Tompkinsville and run into a student from Monroe County, you really get a connection point with that student,” Skipper said.
In terms of judging the summer tour’s success, Caboni said that only time will tell, but he hopes to see more students from those counties coming to WKU as an outcome. He said he is currently unsure if the tour will continue next summer in the same counties or different areas, which could includeTuition Incentive Program (TIP) counties neighboring states.
According to WKU Admissions, “Western Kentucky University offers (TIP) to qualified undergraduate students in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.”
“It’s easy sometimes to sit in Bowling Green and think that what you see here is Western Kentucky University, but it’s really not,” Caboni said. “We have a larger mission and a larger role.”
Reporter Emily DeLetter can be reached at 270-745-6011 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @emilydeletter.