UK working toward a healthier Kentucky

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto said Thursday that UK has advanced infrastructure across the commonwealth, including partnerships with other higher education institutions, which is helping the university reach its goal to help provide a healthier, wealthier Kentucky.

The healthier Kentucky initiative is something that Dr. Mark Newman, UK’s executive vice president for health affairs, said has been a driving force across the commonwealth because “a better Kentucky is a healthy Kentucky.”

Capilouto spoke Thursday at the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce Rooster Booster breakfast at the Owensboro Convention Center.

In an interview following Rooster Booster, Newman said Kentucky has a lot of health challenges he referred to as health disparities: a high cancer death rate, a high substance use disorder, and a high risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease to name a few. There are a number of components UK is using to lessen the impact of those disparities, including educating people to what these specific issues are, and how to prevent them.

Part of that education involves partnerships across the commonwealth, such as the UK College of Medicine regional campus in Bowling Green, and its recent partnership with Kentucky Wesleyan College.

“How do we do the research to understand what are the reasons for these differences, and how do we treat them better?” Newman asked. “Before we prevent, we have to understand, and we have to use technology and expand that technology to be able to enhance the things we want to do.”

All those pieces, he said, are the key components to making a healthier Kentucky.

Health and wellness go hand-in-hand with an educated population, Capilouto said, along with providing as many people as possible the opportunity to attend good schools.

Given that Kentucky is a commonwealth that has a larger population of limited means, he said UK has to provide an advanced education at an affordable rate.

The biggest problem facing higher education is the cost of attending colleges and universities, Capilouto said.

Through the UK LEADS program, unmet needs for students have been targeted through awarding more institutional aid based on financial need. The school also will award scholarships based on merit, but Capilouto said this will help “keep the doors open wide” for all students, regardless of economic status.

Often, the best and the brightest students come from families with means, and there exists a gap in support, Capilouto said.

If that gap is closed, and if UK can keep the cost of education below $5,000 a year for some of those students in need, student graduation rates will increase considerably, Capilouto said.

“Most universities in the country (including UK) focus on merit-based aide,” he said. “But to lift Kentucky the way we want to, we’ve got to go off to the best and brightest, and many times those come from families with means. But we also have some exceptional students who have limited means.”