Western Kentucky University

Western Kentucky University
Motto The Spirit makes the Master
Life more life
Type Public
Established 1906
Endowment $109.9 million at February 29, 2012 for the combined foundations.[1]
President Gary A. Ransdell
Academic staff
771 full-time (Fall 2011)[2]
Administrative staff
2,211 full and part time (Fall 2011)[2]
Students 21,048 (Fall 2011)[3]
Undergraduates 19,640 (Fall 2012)[2]
Postgraduates 3,066 (Fall 2011)[2]
Location Bowling Green, Kentucky, U.S.
36°59′10″N 86°27′20″W / 36.98611°N 86.45556°W / 36.98611; -86.45556Coordinates: 36°59′10″N 86°27′20″W / 36.98611°N 86.45556°W / 36.98611; -86.45556
Campus 200 acres (.81 km²)
Colors Red and White[4]
Nickname Hilltoppers and Lady Toppers
Mascot Big Red
Affiliations Conference USA[5]
Website www.wku.edu

Western Kentucky University is a public university in Bowling Green, Kentucky, United States. It was founded by the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1906, though its roots reach back a quarter-century earlier. In the fall 2011 semester, enrollment was approximately 21,000.

The subject of heavy construction since the late 1990s, the main campus sits atop a hill with a commanding view of the Barren River valley. The campus flows from the top of College Heights, also known as The Hill, down its north, south and west faces. WKU also operates a satellite campus in Bowling Green (WKU South Campus Academic Wing) and regional campuses in Glasgow, Elizabethtown-Fort Knox and Owensboro.


A statue of Dr. Henry Hardin Cherry, WKU's founder, stands at the top of The Hill, in front of Cherry Hall

The roots of Western Kentucky University go back to 1876 with the founding by A. W. Mell of the privately owned Glasgow Normal School and Business College in Glasgow, Kentucky. This institution moved to Bowling Green in 1884 and became the Southern Normal School and Business College.[6] In 1890, Potter College was opened as a private women's college by Pleasant J. Potter.[7] In 1906, Henry Harden Cherry sold the Southern Normal School and became president of the Western Kentucky State Normal School,[7] when it was created by an act of the Kentucky General Assembly. Southern's student body and building were transferred to the new school, beginning classes on January 22, 1907.[8] In 1909 Potter College closed and Western bought the buildings and property of the school.[9] In 1911, Western relocated to its present site on the property that had been Potter College.[8]

In 1922, the school was authorized by the state to grant four-year degrees and was renamed "Western Kentucky State Normal School and Teachers College".[10] The first four-year degrees were awarded in 1924. In 1927, the school merged with Ogden College, which occupied an adjacent campus. The name changed again in 1930 to "Western Kentucky State Teachers College". The school was authorized to offer the Master of Arts degree in 1931. Another name change took place in 1948, when the school became simply "Western Kentucky State College".

WKSC merged with the Bowling Green College of Commerce, formerly the Bowling Green Business University, in 1963. Bowling Green Business University had originally been a part of the Southern Normal School and had been sold off by Henry Hardin Cherry when Southern Normal School was transferred to the state. The structure of the institution changed at this time, dividing into separate colleges. Bowling Green College of Commerce maintained its identity in this way. The Graduate School also became a constituent college. In 1965, three additional colleges were created. In 1966, Western Kentucky State College became Western Kentucky University.

For many years, the school was popularly known as "Western," as indicated in its fight song, "Stand Up and Cheer."[11] However, in recent years has indicated it prefers to be called by its initials.[12]


The Spirit Makes the Master, WKU's motto, is on the pylon at the entrance to the university.
Pearce-Ford Tower, the largest dormitory at Western Kentucky University and the second largest in the United States
Mass Media and Technology Hall, home to WKU's School of Journalism and Broadcasting, a nationally prominent program routinely ranked among the best undergraduate journalism schools in the nation.

WKU is divided into the following undergraduate colleges:

An academic range of eighty majors and seventy minors are offered, toward the following degrees:

WKU also offers fifteen associate degree programs and five certificate programs.

The Graduate School is now the Office of Graduate Studies and Research, which offers:

As of 2007, twenty-seven alumni of WKU's photo and print journalism programs have been awarded thirteen Pulitzer Prizes, including eleven alumni recognized for their coverage of the Carrollton bus crash.[13] The school publishes a twice-weekly newspaper, the College Heights Herald.[14]

Western Kentucky University's forensics (speech and debate) team is consistently ranked as one of the best teams in the country. The team has won the American Forensic Association (AFA) and National Forensic Association (NFA)[15] national championships multiple times since 2003. It has also won the International Forensic Association's (IFA) international championship every year it has attended. The team remains the only team in the nation ever to win the AFA, NFA, IFA, and NFA debate championship in the same year, a feat it has accomplished multiple times. The team hosts several tournaments for junior high and senior high students each fall, as well as a large speech and debate summer camp each July.

View from the middle of the campus

WKU is also home to the largest American master's degree program in folklore; it is contained within the Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology. It is unique among American folklore programs for its public folklore program and is one of the few schools in Kentucky to offer a focus in historic preservation.

In the fall of 2009, WKU began its bachelor's degree program in popular culture studies, being only the second university in America to offer such a program (the other being Bowling Green State University). Also in the fall of 2009, an independent Doctor of Education (EdD) program in educational leadership began at WKU.

University rankings
Forbes[16] 510
U.S. News & World Report[17] 30 (South)
Master's University class
Washington Monthly[18] 249

Western Kentucky University was ranked the 26th top college in the United States by Payscale and CollegeNet's Social Mobility Index college rankings.[19] In the rankings of "America's Best Colleges 2009," WKU is No. 10 among public master's universities in the South, up from No. 12 in the 2008 rankings. According to Forbes 2009 rankings of America's top 600 colleges, Western Kentucky University is ranked No. 434, making it the second highest ranked public college in the state of Kentucky.

WKU's Regional Campuses are located in Glasgow, Elizabethtown-Fort Knox and Owensboro. WKU also offers Distance Learning Degrees:[20]

Honors College

The WKU Honors College became the first and only Honors College in the Commonwealth of Kentucky on July 1, 2007. The Honors College serves over 1,300 active Honors students with the 2016 incoming freshman class ACT/SAT average ranking among the top 6% in the nation.[21]

The Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky

The Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky opened in the Fall of 2007. The project is based on the University of North Texas's Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science. The school accepts roughly 60 high school juniors each year. As an incoming junior, students are given the opportunity to earn at least 60 college credit hours during their tenure at the school. The Gatton Academy was named "America's Best High School" by Newsweek in 2012 and 2013.


WKU wordmark

The men's athletic teams are known as the Hilltoppers and the women's teams as the Lady Toppers. Their mascot is known as Big Red. The mascot itself has become one of the most popular characters in collegiate sports, even appearing in a series of ESPN promotions. WKU was a member of the Sun Belt Conference from 1982 to 2014. From 1948 to 1982, it was a member of the Ohio Valley Conference. On July 1, 2014 all WKU athletics moved to Conference USA (C-USA).[5]

The WKU swim team, before its suspension after the 2014–15 season, consistently placed in the top 5 in the Mid-Major National Rankings. In 2006 their men were undefeated in dual meets and were Sun Belt Conference Champions. The women won five consecutive championships from 2001–2005.In 2005, after 37 years as head coach, Coach Bill Powell became an assistant coach, and holds record for being the second winningest coach in men's swimming in NCAA dual meet history.

In January 2015, former swimmer Colin Craig told police that he had been assaulted and forced to drink alcohol, even though at the time he was too young to buy or drink alcohol. He also reported numerous incidents of hazing at a house near campus. An investigation by both police and school officials subsequently revealed numerous incidents of drug use and sexually charged hazing dating back to at least 2012. Powell's successor, Bruce Marchionda, was aware of this behavior and did nothing to prevent it, even though it violated numerous university policies on hazing, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. One swimmer was charged with possession of marijuana.[22] On April 14, WKU officials announced the swimming and diving program would be suspended for five years due to what school president Gary Ransdell called a "pervasive" and "intolerable" environment in the program.[23]

The baseball team has enjoyed some success recently as well, winning the Sun Belt Conference tournament championship in 2009. In April 2010, the WKU baseball team defeated the University of Kentucky 24–8 in a game at Bowling Green Ballpark. The crowd of 6,183 set the record for largest crowd to ever attend a college baseball game in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.


E.A. Diddle Arena, home to the Men's and Women's Basketball teams at WKU

The men's basketball program has the 14th most victories in the history of the NCAA. The school has been to the NCAA Tournament 21 times; in addition, it has made one appearance in the NCAA Final Four, in 1971 (later vacated by the NCAA). WKU also made three appearances in the NIT Final Four while it was a premier post-season tournament, equal in stature to that of the NCAA Tournament. In Street & Smith's publications "100 Greatest Programs", WKU ranked #31. WKU also has the 3rd most conference titles in NCAA history with 41 trailing only Kentucky and Kansas, 6th in NCAA history with 40 20-win seasons, 8th in NCAA history in winning percentage at 67.2%, and recorded the first 30-win season in NCAA history in the 1937–1938 season with a record of 30–3.

The men's basketball team defeated Middle Tennessee in the 2008 Sun Belt Conference tournament championship game to get a bid into the 2008 NCAA Tournament. The Hilltoppers won their first-round contest against Drake on a last-second three-pointer by Ty Rogers, and won their second round game against San Diego, before losing by 2 points against UCLA in the Sweet 16. It was the Toppers' third appearance in the Sweet 16 but their first since 1993. In 2009, the men's basketball team defeated Illinois in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to advance to the second round game against Gonzaga. Unfortunately, the Toppers were beaten by a last second shot, failing to advance to their second straight Sweet 16. In the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2012, the Toppers pulled off a stunning win against Mississippi Valley State, erasing a 16-point deficit with less than five minutes left and pulling off the 59–58 win while President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron looked on.

The women's basketball team is a storied program, with three National Collegiate Athletic Association Final Four appearances. In 1992, coach Paul Sanderford's Lady Toppers advanced to the national championship game before bowing out to Stanford. The Lady Toppers are known for their post-season prowess, and returned to the NCAA Tournament in 2014.

Michelle Clark-Heard is the current women's basketball coach at Western Kentucky. Coach Clark-Heard is a former WKU player who has spent the last five years as an assistant at the University of Louisville under former WKU assistant coach Jeff Walz. Previously, she coached Division II Kentucky State University for two years. In her five seasons in Louisville, the Cardinals made three regional semifinal appearances and finished as national runner-up in 2009. She helped develop former Louisville forward and current WNBA star Angel McCoughtry, and also helped recruit and develop another current WNBA player, former Cardinals guard Shoni Schimmel.

Clark-Heard also worked as an assistant at Cincinnati and Nebraska before her time at Kentucky State. She played four seasons for the Lady Toppers after being named the 1986 girls' high school player of the year in Kentucky.

Clark-Heard replaced Mary Taylor Cowles, who was fired on March 8 after 10 seasons.


The Hilltopper football team belonged to what was then known as the Gateway Football Conference until 2006. In 2002, WKU won the NCAA Division I FCS National Football championship. In 2006, the school's board of regents voted to move the team to the Division I Bowl Subdivision (formerly I-A). After two years of provisional status, they began to compete in 2009 as a member of the Sun Belt Conference. An extensive rivalry with Eastern Kentucky University, known as the Battle of the Bluegrass, ended in 2008 as WKU moved into FBS football. The Hilltoppers' biggest Sun Belt rivals had been the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, who are located less than two hours away from WKU. The rivalry was temporarily halted in 2013 after Middle Tennessee left the Sun Belt for C-USA, but was renewed the following year when WKU themselves moved to C-USA. The Hilltoppers are currently coached by head coach Jeff Brohm.

Student body profile

WKU had a total enrollment in the Fall Semester of 2011 of 21,048[3] students. Out of Fall 2011's enrollment figure of 21,048, 14,890[2] were full-time and 17,982[2] were undergraduates. WKU now has the second largest undergraduate population in Kentucky, behind the University of Kentucky. Ethnic and racial minority enrollment was 19%[2] at 4,032[2] students. About 60% of students are female.[2]

48 of the 50 states were represented at WKU in the fall of 2011. Regarding students from around the globe, 61 foreign countries were represented at WKU in 2011.

The average high school grade point average for entering freshmen in 2011 was 3.18[2] and 30.3%[2] had an ACT score of 24 or above.

Greek organizations

In 1965 the Western Kentucky University Board of Regents allowed national fraternities and sororities to form local chapters. Currently there are 33 active organizations with approximately 1500 members per year.[24]

Active fraternities include: - Alpha Gamma Rho - Alpha Phi Alpha - Alpha Tau Omega - FarmHouse - Iota Phi Theta - Kappa Sigma - Kappa Alpha Psi - Lambda Chi Alpha - Omega Psi Phi - Phi Beta Sigma - Phi Delta Theta - Phi Gamma Delta - Pi Kappa Alpha - Sigma Alpha Epsilon - Sigma Chi - Sigma Nu - Sigma Phi Epsilon

Active sororities include: - Alpha Delta Pi - Alpha Gamma Delta - Alpha Kappa Alpha - Alpha Omicron Pi - Alpha Xi Delta - Chi Omega - Delta Sigma Theta - Delta Zeta - Kappa Delta - Omega Phi Alpha - Phi Mu - Sigma Alpha - Sigma Gamma Rho - Sigma Kappa - Zeta Phi Beta

Predating the national fraternities, there were local fraternities reaching back to the 1930s. The two leading men's social organizations were Phi Phi Kappa (also known as the Thirteeners), founded in 1939; and the Barons, founded the same year. When national Greek organizations were admitted to WKU, Phi Phi Kappa became Delta Tau Delta and the Barons became Alpha Tau Omega.

Media and publications

Adams-Whitaker Student Publications Center, home to the College Heights Herald, the Talisman and WKUHerald.com.

WKU Student Publications (Herald and Talisman) moved into a state-of-the-art new facility, the Adams-Whitaker Student Publications Center, in December 2007. The $1.6 million complex was built through a partnership between alumni, who raised more than $1 million, and the university. The 6,500-square-foot (600 m2) building, across Normal Drive from the School of Journalism and Broadcasting, is named for Robert Adams and the late David B. Whitaker.

Agreement with the University of Akureyri

Western Kentucky University (WKU), the University of Akureyri (UNAK) and the Icelandic Arctic Cooperation Network (IACN) signed an academic and research agreement that solidifies the North Atlantic Climate Change Collaboration (NAC3) project.

The innovative agreement signed by the academic and research partners will center on academic exchanges and joint course offerings, research initiatives, capacity building, economic development activities, and service-learning. The NAC3 project aims to focus on academic exchange, course development and collaborative research in the areas of climate change, climate literacy, health and wellness, ocean dynamics, sustainability, informal public education, economic development, technology exchange, and water resources, among others. (Additional information about the project is available at www.wku.edu/iceland)

Notable people

See also


  1. "Best Colleges 2012: Western Kentucky University". U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved January 6, 2012.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 "Numbers slip 2.2% at WKU". 2013.
  3. 1 2 https://www.wku.edu/news/releases07/september/enrollment.html Archived September 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. WKU Communication & Branding Manual (PDF). Retrieved 2016-03-25.
  5. 1 2 "WKU Enters Athletic Membership Agreement with Conference USA Beginning July 1, 2014 - Western Kentucky University Official Athletics Site". Wkusports.com. Retrieved May 31, 2013.
  6. Ellis 2011, p. 137.
  7. 1 2 Ellis 2011, p. 363.
  8. 1 2 "The History of WKU". Bowling Green, Kentucky: Western Kentucky University. 2011. Archived from the original on June 11, 2011. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  9. Ellis 2011, p. 365.
  10. History of Western Kentucky University Archived May 11, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. Tradition page at WKU athletic site
  12. 2012-13 men's basketball media guide
  13. "WKU News & Events". wku.edu. Archived from the original on 5 March 2012.
  14. "College Heights Herald".
  15. NFA Nationals: Team and Individual Sweepstakes Champions, July 19, 2011. Nationalforensics.org.
  16. "America's Top Colleges". Forbes. July 5, 2016.
  17. "Best Colleges 2017: Regional Universities Rankings". U.S. News & World Report. September 12, 2016.
  18. "2016 Rankings - National Universities - Masters". Washington Monthly. Retrieved September 6, 2016.
  19. "Social Mobility Index". Social Mobility Index. CollegeNet and PayScale. 2014. Retrieved June 5, 2015.
  20. Archived February 6, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  21. klk62361. "Honors College Home". Western Kentucky University. Retrieved 2012-03-08.
  22. Highland, Deborah (April 15, 2015). "WKU swim program suspended for five years in wake of hazing investigation". Bowling Green Daily News.
  23. "WKU Suspends Swimming and Diving Program for 5 Years" (Press release). WKU Athletics. April 14, 2015. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
  24. "Western Kentucky University Greek Affairs – About". Retrieved August 28, 2011.


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