Aaron Thompson is a nationally recognized leader in higher education with a focus on policy, student success and organizational leadership and design. He was named president of the Council in October 2018, following the retirement of Robert L. King. He came to the Council in 2009 from Eastern Kentucky University, where he held a variety of leadership positions, including associate vice president for academic affairs, university programs. In May 2016, he left the Council to serve as interim president for Kentucky State University and returned to the Council in summer 2017.
His leadership experience spans 27 years across higher education, business and numerous non-profit boards. Thompson has researched, taught and consulted in areas of diversity, leadership, ethics, multicultural families, race and ethnic relations, student success, first-year students, retention, cultural competence and organizational design throughout his career.
As a highly sought after national speaker, Thompson has presented more than 800 workshops, seminars and invited lectures in areas of race and gender diversity, living an unbiased life, overcoming obstacles to gain success, creating a school environment for academic success, cultural competence, workplace interaction, leadership, organizational goal setting, building relationships, the first-year seminar, and a variety of other topics. He continues to serve as a consultant to educational institutions (elementary, secondary and postsecondary), corporations, non-profit organizations, police departments and other governmental agencies.
Thompson has published more than 30 publications and numerous research and peer reviewed presentations. He has authored or co-authored the following books: Changing Student Culture from the Ground Up, The Sociological Outlook, Infusing Diversity and Cultural Competence into Teacher Education, Peer to Peer Leadership: Changing Student Culture from the Ground Up. He also co-authored Thriving in College and Beyond: Research-Based Strategies for Academic Success, Thriving in the Community College and Beyond: Research-Based Strategies for Academic Success and Personal Development, Diversity and the College Experience, Focus on Success and Black Men and Divorce.
President Thompson's Priorities
1. Positioning higher education as the key to social mobility and economic development.
In a decade of rising tuition, reduced government spending, and public skepticism about the value of college, CPE will remind Kentucky why higher education matters. We will mount a comprehensive communications strategy and engage business, industry and community partners to encourage reinvestment in this public good.
- In Kentucky, associate degree holders earn 14% more than high school graduates, and bachelor’s degree holders earn 64% more, which generates more tax revenue.
- The state workforce participation rate for bachelor’s degree graduates is 20 percentage points higher than for high school graduates.
- Kentucky high school graduates are four times more likely to receive public assistance than bachelor’s degree graduates.
- CPE launched “Higher Education Matters,” a campaign to disseminate information about the value of higher education to individuals and society. CPE shares infographics weekly on social media (#KYHigherEdMatters) and provides testimony and materials to the General Assembly and other key audiences.
- President Thompson embarked on a statewide listening tour to hear what CPE can do to help students, educators, businesses, and communities realize the transformative power of higher education. He will visit 7 cities between January and May and speak to thousands of Kentuckians along the way, sharing how higher education can make a difference in their lives.
2. Improving college access and affordability for high school graduates as well as adults.
CPE will work to control college costs and prepare more high school graduates for college. At the same time, we will make our colleges and universities friendlier to adults seeking new jobs or career advancement.
- Since 2015, enrollment at four-year public universities and KCTCS is down 3%.
- The college-going rate of high school graduates has remained essentially flat at 54%. Adult enrollment peaked in 2011 but has decreased about 50% since then.
- Net price at UK and UofL increased 6% over the previous year and 9% at the comprehensive universities. KCTCS experienced a slight decline in net price.
- GEAR UP KY, a $24M federal grant, is the centerpiece of CPE’s efforts to improve college access. CPE will serve at least 10,000 middle and high school students in 10 low-income school districts over the next seven years. Students receive academic advising and supports, financial literacy training, and college awareness activities to help them plan, apply and pay for college.
- 15 to Finish is a joint effort to encourage more students to complete 15 credit hours per semester to finish an undergraduate degree in four years. Data show that students double or triple their chance of graduating on time if they accumulate more credit in the first year (high school dual credit can help). Students who complete 30 hours as freshmen have a four-year graduation rate of over 60% and a six-year graduation rate of over 80%, well above state averages. They also save money by finishing in fewer semesters.
- Project Graduate is a campaign to recruit former college students with more than 80 credit hours but no degree. Universities provide targeted advising and other incentives to encourage them to re-enroll. To date, more than 1,500 students have completed a degree through the program.
- CPE set a goal to grow adult enrollment to 70,000 adults by 2020-21, up from 49,000 currently. KCTCS was an early adopter of online competency-based education (CBE), and CPE continues work to expand adult-friendly practices like CBE, credit for prior learning and program redesigns that increase flexibility and convenience.
- CPE establishes tuition ceilings, which have moderated tuition growth to about 4.5% per year since 2009-10. Prior to the ceilings, tuition increased about 12% per year over a 7-year period.
- In Kentucky, campus-funded scholarships increased 11 of the past 12 years, despite deep cuts in state general fund appropriations. Several campuses are beginning to target institutional aid to needier students to improve affordability.
3. Ensuring that all students succeed at the same rate, regardless of age, race or income.
Low-income and underrepresented minority students enroll and graduate at much lower rates. These students need targeted resources and strong advising to ensure they have an equal opportunity for success.
- The 6-year graduation rate for low-income and minority students is 37%, compared to the statewide average of 51%.
- At KCTCS, the 3-year graduation rate for minority students is 22%, compared to the overall rate of 30%. The rate for low-income students is 28%.
- CPE put gap closing front and center by prioritizing outcomes for low-income and minority students in the performance funding model for KCTCS and public universities. CPE also disaggregates key student success metrics by race/ethnicity, first-generation, age, and Pell-grant status.
- CPE has implemented one of the most comprehensive diversity planning processes in the nation. Campuses are held accountable not only for making progress in closing enrollment, retention, and graduation gaps, but also for taking steps to create a more inclusive campus culture. Progress on campus diversity plans are tied to a campus’s eligibility for new academic programs.
4. Responding to Kentucky’s current business needs while laying the groundwork for the future.
CPE will encourage institutions to be more innovative and nimble when training students to fill employment shortages in advanced manufacturing, healthcare, business and IT, transportation and logistics, and construction. At the same time, we will ensure our graduates are high-level problem solvers, innovators, and communicators who can adapt to new technologies and work in teams.
- 1 out of 3 jobs in Kentucky will require a postsecondary diploma, certificate or associate degree by 2020. 1 out of 5 will require a bachelor’s degree.
- 58% of Kentucky’s workforce is made up of “middle-skill” jobs; however, only 48% of Kentuckians are educated to the middle-skill level.
- Kentucky is ranked 42nd in the nation in workforce participation, a big deterrent to prospective businesses and industries.
- Kentucky received a $400,000 grant from the Lumina Foundation to raise awareness of the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship among undereducated adults. The WRKS enables Kentuckians to pursue tuition-free certificates and associate degrees in Kentucky’s high-demand workforce sectors.
5. Enhancing academic quality through game-changing strategies that improve teaching and learning.
CPE will advance cutting-edge, research-based approaches to create interdisciplinary, job-embedded academic programs that position students to succeed in the workforce of today and tomorrow. Increasingly, competencies, not credit hours, are determining credentials. How we understand and assess learning is changing, and CPE will lead this change.
- CPE’s innovative partnership with QA Commons responds to the need for Kentucky’s college graduates to demonstrate employability skills necessary for success in the 21st century workforce. Kentucky’s EEQ Certification Initiative will transform the way 6 pilot institutions prepare graduates for employment by incorporating essential skills training into the academic curriculum and certifying that program graduates have mastered these skills.