For much of the period between 1997 and 2006 the national economy was generally stable, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s commitment to higher education was strong. Funding for many university priorities was realized during that time. But in late 2007 that all changed with a global recession that has resulted in numerous budget cuts to Kentucky universities as well as declining federal research and public service grant funds.
At WKU state funding levels in 2012 are near where they were in 1997 yet the institution has grown by more than 6,000 students. This dramatic enrollment growth has been
the impetus for adding 239 more faculty and 601 more staff over the last 15 years. As the number of students increases, so too do the demands for services, programs, and initiatives to support and promote student success.
The state’s share of WKU’s budget in 1997 was 43 percent, but due to inadequate state resources, the state’s share has fallen to only 18 percent today. Much of WKU’s total budget growth over the last 15 years has come from enrollment growth and tuition and fees, which were $1,070 per semester for in-state undergraduate students in 1997. Today tuition is $4,236 per semester. Entrepreneurial business practices, including outsourcing dining services and facilities management; along with hundreds of efficiencies, ranging from moving to paperless transactions to selling surplus equipment on eBay; as well as energy conservation efforts that produce annual savings on utility costs have been implemented. The University maintains a low debt ratio of 3.2 percent of its operating budget and is rated as Aa3 by Moody’s and A+ by S&P.
WKU is committed to maintaining a strong financial profile and to budgeting its funds in ways that ensure strategic goals are met and a high level of academic quality is maintained as has been demonstrated throughout this report.
Growth in private giving to WKU is a primary source for new funding to support student scholarships and academic priorities during the last 15 years. Two non-profit foundations exist to receive and manage monetary gifts for the purpose of supporting students and advancing the educational mission of WKU: the College Heights Foundation, created in 1923, and the WKU Foundation, created in 1993.
In 1997 the combined endowment of these two foundations was $19.3 million. Thanks to the generosity of thousands of WKU alumni, friends, and corporate partners, at the completion of WKU’s second capital campaign earlier this year the combined endowment now totals $111.8 million. These foundations supported six endowed professorships in 1997. That number has grown dramatically to 33 endowed professorships and two endowed chairs in 2012. The College Heights Foundation scholarship awards grew from $573,962 in 1997 to $4.8 million for fiscal year 2011.
A significant factor contributing to the growth in WKU’s endowment is the “Bucks for Brains” program initiated by the Commonwealth of Kentucky following passage of Higher Education Reform in 1997. Bucks for Brains was a matching program which provided a dollar for dollar match of state funds with private funds given to universities in support of research and service programs, endowed chairs and professorships, and scholarships. WKU matched more than $14 million in Bucks for Brains funds from the state during the life of the program.
WKU Research Foundation
The WKU Research Foundation (WKURF) was established in 2001 to serve as the fiscal agent for externally funded grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements. External grant awards in 1997 totaled $11.5 million and by 2011 had grown to $22.9 million.
Until 2010, the WKU Research Foundation acted primarily as a “bank” for extramural grants and contracts. WKURF is now using its flexibility to enter into entrepreneurial relationships to benefit WKU and the region and is supporting new business ventures of students and faculty through various initiatives.
“I’ve known most of the university presidents in Kentucky over the last couple of decades, and none has a record as good as Gary Ransdell. What has happened at Western over the last fifteen years is truly remarkable any way you measure it.”
— U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell
“Kentucky has to invest at a greater level in higher education if we’re going to raise the standard of living and the median income of Kentuckians. But since we struggle (with state funding), what’s been rewarding is watching what Gary has done here to find resources to make sure Western moves forward.”
— U.S. Representative Brett Guthrie