At annual retreat, University of Kentucky trustees discuss money and online education

Eli Capilouto
Eli Capilouto Herald-Leader

The University of Kentucky Board of Trustees spent its annual retreat Saturday weighing the numerous pressures it faces in the greater world of higher education, including less state support, higher costs for students, fewer research dollars, and the uncertain but inevitable future of online education.

More particular to UK are issues such as a new way of budgeting, a housing boom, and a large and talented freshman class met with a nervous campus community that's facing another round of budget cuts.

Last year, the retreat helped determine that President Eli Capilouto needed to focus on undergraduate education, more residence halls and new academic facilities. Capilouto said the discussions with the board will be added to conversations with other parts of campus, including faculty, staff and students.

"What we're trying to do is serve as a bridge to our constituents ... the intersection of all these conversations, we think, will be useful in shaping the way we go."

One of the big issues will be online education. Vince Kellen, UK's Chief Information Officer, who was recently promoted to senior provost for academic planning, analytics and technologies, pointed out that many of the nation's elite universities are surging ahead in online education with Massive Open Online Courses, known as MOOCs, although it's not yet clear how or whether they will be profitable.

Capilouto said online education is already happening in pockets all over campus, but there is no centralized program.

"It's the fastest-growing segment in higher education," he said. "Where do we fit in all this?"

It's clear that trustees want Capilouto to figure that out.

"This is technology going on today," trustee Bill Britton said to Capilouto. "Be my leader — what's going to be here five years from now? Do we have a plan for the next three years, five years, for what we're going to do for online education? It's here; we can either embrace it or get run over by it."

Other issues:

■ How healthcare reform will affect academic medical centers such as UK. Smaller hospital centers will probably go out of business, which is why so many hospital chains are merging. This is why UK HealthCare CEO Michael Karpf says UK needs to continue its push to become a regional referral center offering specialized care to all of Kentucky, and other states as well. "We must thrive to survive," he said.

■ New "values-based budgeting." Instead of basing every unit's budget on what it got the year before, UK's new model concentrates on how much each unit brings in revenues and distributes money accordingly. However, officials must also decide what is valued, whether it makes money or not.

Several trustees asked whether the new model will encourage competition, rather than cooperation, between units.

"It's the role of leadership to prevent competition," said interim provost Tim Tracy. "Any budget model will fail without good leadership."

■ Upcoming budget cuts on top of layoffs of 140 people this year. Last week, the Faculty Senate sent a memo to Capilouto asking for more explanation and consideration of how budget cuts are affecting UK's academic mission, especially as it grows the student body. Capilouto is scheduled to meet with the Faculty Senate on Oct. 22.

"The issue I see is that on all our missions, it's taking more and more time to do quality work," said faculty trustee John Wilson. "As we start to think about what we expect of people, we have to recalibrate what is possible in this environment. These are exciting times, but there's the whole issue of how we're going to move forward on this when we expect faculty to do quality work in all things."

■ Continued attention to residence hall construction, which is being done through a partnership with a private developer. At the same time, UK is working on a new master plan to figure out how more students on campus will affect nearby neighborhoods.

The retreat wraps up Sunday morning, followed by a regular meeting in the afternoon.

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