WKU announces $39 million in private support for Opportunity Fund

Courtesy WKU

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – During the faculty and staff Convocation today, Western Kentucky University President Timothy C. Caboni announced that the University has raised more than $39 million in private support for the WKU Opportunity Fund. First announced during President Caboni’s Investiture in April 2017, the Opportunity Fund is a student-centered campaign to raise $50 million to remove barriers to education through needs-based financial assistance to support recruitment, retention and experiences beyond the classroom.

“Our very own Opportunity Fund continues exponential growth to support our students, growing to more than $39 million in just three years,” said President Caboni during the Convocation address.

Upholding WKU’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion while continuing the spirit of providing access and opportunity, the Opportunity Fund is a way to directly invest in students. In the last fiscal year, WKU received $11.6 million for the Opportunity Fund.

“The success of the Opportunity Fund shows how dedicated our alumni and friends are to supporting current and future WKU students,” said Amanda Trabue, Vice President for Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement. “Donors often share that they establish a scholarship fund to ‘pay it forward’ in respect to financial support they received as a student.”

Since the launch of the Opportunity Fund in July 2017, WKU has established 114 new endowed scholarship funds.

Jashaun York, a junior from Covington, Ky., who is studying Criminology and Sociology, is the recipient of the Nathan P. Jordon and the National Panhellenic scholarship funds, both privately supported funds. York, who participates in activities with the CJ and George Nichols III Intercultural Student Engagement Center, shared with Dr. Martha Sales that he would have to take a semester off school to save money for tuition. Dr. Sales suggested he apply for support through scholarships.

“For me, receiving a scholarship was the difference maker—the difference in me graduating on time or taking longer,” shared York. “I paid my tuition for my first semester at WKU after working all summer. Scholarships are a real game-changer.”

The experience of receiving scholarship support has inspired York to consider establishing a scholarship in the future.

“I’m not even finished with school yet, and I’ve been thinking about how I can give back,” said York. “I know the significance of scholarship support, and I know what it will mean to others.”

In addition to scholarship support, the Opportunity Fund can provide needs-based awards to WKU students for unexpected financial needs including housing and meal assistance, loss of income, technology needs to complete alternative course delivery and other expenses as deemed appropriate. This fund was used in spring and summer 2020 to support emergency student needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Emma Bell, a sophomore from Scottsville, Ky., who is pursuing a degree in Agriculture with a concentration in Animal Science, received support through the Opportunity Fund to install internet in the place she was staying to socially distance from at-risk family members during the spring 2020 semester.

“It was definitely a challenge to move in the middle of a pandemic and in the middle of a semester, but having internet in my home made it so much easier to complete assignments and keep up with lectures,” said Bell.

“Without help from the Opportunity Fund, I would have been unable to complete the semester,” she added. “I was so discouraged trying to complete assignments and take exams wherever I could find Wi-Fi that I was seriously considering dropping out.”

Fundraising for the Opportunity Fund and emergency student assistance was included in WKU’s Day of Caring on April 9, 2020.

“Our Division planned for many months to hold a Day of Giving in April, but at the time we felt that wasn’t the message we wanted to send to our campus community,” said Trabue. “We knew many members of the WKU Family were and still are adapting to new situations where they are disconnected from loved ones and friends, and we wanted to highlight the ways in which we can still come together.”

While efforts were focused on celebrating Hilltopper connections through social media, a secondary focus was placed on the opportunity for alumni and friends to help WKU students whose ability to complete the semester was challenged by the economic realities of the time.

Emergency Student Assistance through the WKU Opportunity Fund, WKU Alumni Initiatives Fund and the WKU Food Pantry were highlighted on Day of Caring because they were providing emergency assistance for unexpected financial needs and expenses.

On Day of Caring, the University received 258 gifts from 332 donors totaling $49,553.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things about how we engage with each other, but it has not changed how Hilltoppers can come together to support one another,” said Trabue.

For the last fiscal year, which represents gifts made July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020, WKU received more than $30.6 million in private support.

The first fundraising initiative of the current fiscal year utilizes SpiritFunder, WKU’s crowdfunding platform.

“Crowdfunding allows individuals to support a cause and have a greater impact as a group than they might have had alone,” said Trabue. “The Back to School SpiritFunder campaign is a way for WKU alumni and friends to show WKU students that the entire Hilltopper Family is here to support their return to class,” said Trabue.

Launched on Aug. 10 and running through Aug. 28, prospective donors are asked to support the WKU Opportunity Fund, the Intercultural Student Engagement Center (ISEC) or the Toppers Assist Scholarship Fund, a scholarship established by four former Hilltopper Basketball student-athletes.

See which fund is in the lead in the Back to School SpiritFunder campaign at wku.edu/spiritfunder.