President’s corner: How Eli Capilouto inspired a spate of gracious donations

"When we did it without asking for any state dollars, we knew we had to do it, and we found a way to do it, and that's our commitment," says University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto.

The University of Kentucky is sitting on a cash cow.

In October, the flagship land-grant university reached its colossal $2.1 billion fundraising goal, aided by contributions from over 162,000 donors across all 50 states and 50 countries. This past November, contractors began constructing a $380 million health education building approved by the Kentucky General Assembly.

It would be hard for a college or university that banks its revenue on tuition and enrollment not to be overwhelmed and even jealous of the money flooding into UK. Consider how the financial forecast for large public institutions isn’t looking too bright in the near future.

In President Eli Capilouto’s eyes, these gifts are more than a reflection of kind-hearted, philanthropic actors. They’re a token of confidence the community has placed in the Wildcats to uplift the commonwealth.

“In my 13 years as president, I’ve learned it’s important to ask yourself: Why are you here? Why is your university here?” says Capilouto. “Whatever challenge we’ve faced, our focus remains advancing Kentucky in everything we do. Our desire is for a healthier, wealthier, wiser Kentucky.”

Listen to President Capilouto explain how UK mustered confidence and support to complete its “Kentucky Can” campaign goal:

How Capilouto leverages partnerships to spur community confidence

Even before UK was granted a state-of-the-art, 500,000-square-foot medical building that houses four different colleges, UK found ways to increase its medical school class by 40% and send more medical practitioners to Kenucky’s underserved areas.

“When we did it without asking for any state dollars, we knew we had to do it, and we found a way to do it, and that’s our commitment,” says Capilouto.

Impressive as these feats are, Capilouto doesn’t embrace challenges alone. “It always takes a good partner,” he says. UK has partnered and collaborated with multiple universities to ensure students living in rural areas receive top-tier education without traveling to Lexington and potentially abandoning their region. The flagship university partnered with Western Kentucky University in 2018 to develop a medical center in Bowling Green. A year later, it partnered with Northern Kentucky University to increase the educational capacity of its students and, in turn, advanced the region’s medical care.

Young, financially modest learners attending UK have also been spared the impacts of a digital divide. Thanks to a partnership with Apple, the university can provide its learners with the company’s devices to ensure they get well-equipped for a modern, technologically driven learning landscape.

Here, Capilouto discusses how UK’s contribution to the state commonwealth is a product of internal and external collaboration.

Extending a hand to the most needy

Capilouto’s mission for a healthier, wealthier and wiser Kentucky is partly spurred by the troubles he’s identified in the state and the responsibility he feels for alleviating them. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

The state has the highest rate of cancer incidence and mortality in the country, which is partially driven by Eastern Appalachia’s health, socioeconomic and education disparities, the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center has found. While increased access to postsecondary education can surely help improve health literacy, affordability is an issue. About 25% of UK students’ families earn $25,000 or less annually, data suggests.

Capilouto discusses facets of the community depending on advancements from the flagship university:

To combat students’ financial barriers, the university launched “UK LEADS,” which stands for Leveraging Economic Affordability for Developing Success. The initiative uses a data-informed analytics model to identify students with unmet financial needs and match them with scholarships. Regardless of students’ academic skills, the university determined that the persistence rates of students with a wider delta between their total cost of attendance and their financial aid were lower than that of students who had less to worry about.

The university has since increased its graduation and persistence rates, which has earned them national recognition. As a result, the LEADS program has earned over $20 million in fundraising, says Capilouto.

However, Capilotuo doesn’t rely solely on numbers to make the best decisions. In line with his passion for collaboration, he understands data still takes “people power.”

“One thing builds on another,” he says. “The ideas certainly don’t start with me, but I believe we have a culture focused on how to best serve our students in our commonwealth.”

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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