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Last month, the University of Kentucky celebrated the achievement of the $2.1 billion goal for Kentucky Can: The 21st Century Campaign — the largest fundraising campaign in the Commonwealth’s history. The comprehensive campaign focused on raising support to fuel all parts of the institution’s mission: education, research, service and care.   

One of the campaign’s most significant impacts has been increasing student access to higher education and cultivating Kentucky’s best and brightest minds. More than 53,500 donors contributed to student support as part of Kentucky Can, giving more than $495 million to support students with financial needs.   

UK also launched UK LEADS — a nationally-recognized program — to reduce unmet financial need by using data-informed analytics to better understand the impact of financial need on student success. In all, more than $24.5 million has been raised by donors to support the LEADS program, with more than 1,500 LEADS scholarships awarded to students.  

By providing scholarships to students who need them most, the university has been able to recruit, retain and graduate more students. In fact, for the first time in its history, UKmarked a six-year graduation rate of 70% this fall, placing the institution among the top 20% of universities in the country.  

The impact is especially strong for first-generation college students — the first in their families to attend and graduate college — who account for around 25% of all UK students. More than $26.9 million in donor funds were awarded to first-generation students during the entirety of the campaign.  

Two of those first-gen students are highlighted in the video above, which was featured during the Kentucky Can celebratory event on Oct. 27. In this video, the students share their personal stories and how philanthropy helped shape their UK experience. They include James Russell, a student in the Stanley and Karen Pigman College of Engineering,and Briana Johnson, a student in the UK College of Fine Arts. 

“Our goal is to prepare students for a life of meaning and purpose and set them on their path,” said Kirsten Turner, UK vice president for student success. “We know that first-generation students — once they cross that stage and earn that degree — can change not only their own life, but also the community and family from which they come.” 

UK is also celebrating first-gen students this week as part of National First-GenerationWeek. Hosted by the Office for Student Success, UK is holding several events — open to the entire campus community — to highlight and acknowledge the varied skillsets and strengths that first-generation students bring to UK and campuses across the nation. Learn more here. 

A new chapter 

While the celebration last month marked the conclusion of the Kentucky Can campaign, it marked the beginning of a new chapter. 

“When we embarked on this campaign, we recognized with both humility and fortitude that these efforts would help write the next chapter for this university and the communities it uplifts,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “That is our north star — to advance Kentucky. This campaign fuels those efforts; it always has been about empowering the incredible talent and impassioned hearts on our campus, so determined and equipped to build a better future for the Commonwealth.”   

“Kentucky is welcoming incredible economic opportunity and billions in investments,” said Jake Lemon, vice president for philanthropy and alumni engagement. “But to continue that pipeline of opportunity, our state must significantly increase its skilled and educated workforce. We will continue to focus our efforts on providing scholarships that open doors of opportunity and that change trajectories of success for even more students, their families and their communities.” 

Learn more about the impact of the campaign and UK Philanthropy at  

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University forKentucky.