The University of Kentucky has launched the public phase of a $2 billion-plus fundraising campaign, laying out a set of goals that include expanding student scholarships and boosting medical research in a state struggling with high rates of cancer and other chronic illnesses.
The state's flagship university announced the $2.1 billion campaign Friday night on its Lexington campus. UK and the state's other public universities were hit with another round of state budget cuts this year — a trend that has spurred tuition hikes to help offset the revenue losses.
UK officials said Friday that more than $1 billion has already been raised during a "quiet" phase of the school's "Kentucky Can: The 21st Century Campaign." Fundraising efforts will expand in coming months when events are held in cities across the region and country, the school said.
"We think we can further transform the commonwealth while we're transforming this university," said UK President Eli Capilouto.
Increasing scholarships based on students' financial needs is a top priority for the campaign, the school said.
The goal is to fund another 2,100 of those scholarships, continuing UK's decision to shift more of its student aid to students needing the most help paying for college. Other types of scholarships also will be supported by the campaign.
UK officials hope to increase the school's scholarship endowment by $300 million.
"We do believe that we will open our doors wider to more Kentuckians and make an education at the University of Kentucky even more accessible," Capilouto said in a phone interview.
State budget cuts in the past decade have caused UK and other public universities to rely increasingly on tuition to help fund operations. At UK, tuition has gone up more than 100 percent since 2005, while state lawmakers cut more than $70 million in funding in the past decade. Since his election in 2015, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has pushed for a philosophical shift in emphasis at the state's public universities to degrees that lead directly to high-demand jobs.
Capilouto, meanwhile, credited private donors for helping provide a cushion from the state cuts.
"Just over the last five years, they've been incredibly effective in closing any gaps we've had," Capilouto said.
Another key priority for the fundraising campaign is boosting financial support for UK research focused on combating the state's chronically high rates of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, the school said. The goal is to eventually cut the state's cancer rates in half, Capilouto said.
The state's struggles with opioid overdoses and deaths will be another research priority supported by the campaign, UK said.
"With this campaign supporting our efforts, we can start and expand innovative therapy and treatment programs," said Dr. Phillip Chang, chief medical officer for UK HealthCare.
The university said it also hopes to bolster its endowment from about $1.5 billion to $2.1 billion as part of the campaign.
The campaign's "quiet" phase began in 2012. UK officials anticipate the public phase lasting four or five more years, but no end-time has been set, said Mike Richey, UK's vice president for philanthropy and alumni engagement.
The fundraising effort comes amid a construction spree on campus. UK has started or completed about $2.3 billion in construction of new residence halls, laboratories and classrooms, clinical care support and athletics facilities in the past seven years.
Money raised during the campaign's initial phase included donations for construction of UK's new Gatton College of Business and Economics building, a new Academic Science Building and the renovated student center.
UK's previous capital campaign raised $1 billion, ending in 2007. It focused largely on endowed faculty positions and infrastructure.