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OPINION: WKU is Kentucky’s next big university

Price Wilborn

Since 1906, Western Kentucky University has served Bowling Green and Kentucky as one of the commonwealth’s eight public universities. Thousands of students have walked up and down the Hill, witnessing countless changes along the way.

This generation of Hilltoppers – my generation of Hilltoppers – is no different. Just before I stepped on campus in 2021, the university began work on its ten-year master plan, which included the creation of the First-Year Village, the Commons, the construction of the new business college and more. There has been and will be some kind of construction occurring on campus each year I am here, and that will be the case for students for years to come.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining. This is all part of a university’s natural life and evolution, and when the work is done, WKU is going to be all the better for it.

This construction is all part of a larger plan to grow the university through not only through increased recruitment and retention, but an increased presence in the Bowling Green and Warren County communities, too.

The Herald’s Editorial Board recently sat down with WKU President Timothy Caboni to discuss the beginning of the new academic year. In this meeting, Caboni discussed at length new partnerships and projects pursued by WKU.

This summer, Governor Andy Beshear and WKU announced several companies that are making their homes at the WKU Innovation Campus. Three companies on the cutting-edge of technological advancement – beingAI, an artificial-intelligence company based out of Hong Kong, MyXR Inc., who focuses on creating augmented reality technologies, and Lunae, a telehealth-first behavioral health company – all established headquarters at the Innovation Campus. These three companies alone will bring 121 jobs to Bowling Green.

“On the student side, it creates remarkable opportunities for our students to work alongside faculty and real-world professionals on projects, projects that are corporate projects,” Caboni said of the Innovation Campus. “On the flip side, when you think about shifting the perception of Bowling Green […] that goes on and on. […] We have to define who we are, who we aspire to be.”

The Innovation Campus is an awesome resource for students and the Bowling Green community. It will only enhance WKU’s standing in the commonwealth because it helps create global relationships between the university and the rest of the world. While all the university’s colleges already provide high-level research opportunities for students, the Innovation Campus creates even more high-level research opportunities that will in turn attract students from across Kentucky, across the nation and across the world.

Increasing WKU’s presence and cooperation with the City of Bowling Green has also been an important focus for Caboni and the university. In this effort, the WKU Board of Regents recently approved a contract that will merge Bowling Green’s transportation system with WKU’s.

“That is not for now, that is for what I see as possible,” Caboni said. “You can imagine WKU buses, instead of focusing all their attention only on campus, having a system where they would go farther into the community, perhaps where student density exists and others, coming through campus and then going to other parts of the city.”

Bowling Green is growing, and not only is WKU growing along with it, but it is capitalizing on its opportunities to do so. Caboni made several references to nearby Nashville’s rapid growth and how this will grow Bowling Green, which will in turn grow the university.

“You can feel Nashville coming north everyday,” Caboni said.

I can hear you saying, dear reader, that every college integrates itself into their home cities, and that’s why the term “college town” exists. To that, I would say you’re not wrong. But the scale at which WKU is working to accomplish this can boost the university and Bowling Green in ways the two have never seen.

WKU is positioning itself to be an integral player in technological advancement, which will give the Kentucky General Assembly to provide more state funding to the university, further enhancing academic possibilities for all students. This funding can be used to continue attracting students to perform groundbreaking, high-level research while attracting more cutting-edge businesses to Bowling Green.

WKU invests so much money into its athletic programs – and that’s not a bad thing, don’t get me wrong – but seeing this new initiative to bring WKU further into the worlds of academia, research, technology development and community growth is refreshing. This will only enhance student life by providing more resources and opportunities to all who call the Hill home.

In December of last year, Reuters called Bowling Green “the next big U.S. city.” This is certainly true. While this growth will take some time and it could be a few years before its effects are truly felt, I believe that while Bowling Green becomes America’s next big city, WKU can become Kentucky’s next big university.

Commentary editor Price Wilborn can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @pricewilborn.

If you would like to submit a reaction to a piece, Letter to the Editor or other submission, please send it to commentary editor Price Wilborn at [email protected] or [email protected].

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