Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

Council President

President Aaron Thompson at Brescia University

Dr. Aaron Thompson

Thompson is the first African American and first native-born Kentuckian to hold the position of Council president. His path to the Council presidency exemplifies the Kentucky higher education matters message.

"While my parents didn’t know what college really was, they taught me and my siblings that there were two things worth fighting and dying for: 'your family and your education'.”

A first-generation college student from rural Clay County, Kentucky, Thompson is the son of a coal miner and a mother whose education ended at the 8th-grade. Despite not having a road paved before him, he went on to become a first-generation high school and college graduate. To this day, he still calls his bachelor's degree from Eastern Kentucky University his proudest achievement: “It changed my whole way of thinking about what my future would look like.”

In addition to a Bachelor of Arts in political science and sociology from Eastern Kentucky University, Thompson also holds a master’s degree in sociology and a doctorate in sociology, both from the University of Kentucky. 

Thompson's career as an educator began at his alma mater of EKU, serving first as a professor for over 20 years, then as associate vice president for academic affairs. He transitioned to the Council on Postsecondary Education in 2009, holding positions as senior vice president for academic affairs and executive vice president. During his tenure at CPE, Thompson briefly left to serve as interim president of Kentucky State University. After his return, he was named Council president in 2018.

"I feel called to do the work necessary to advance the Commonwealth by closing gaps so that all students have access to the great equalizer – a high quality education."

Based on his experiences as a student, faculty member and administrator, Thompson has made tackling student achievement gaps, a persistent issue in Kentucky, agency priorities. To this end, he implemented the state’s diversity, equity and inclusion policy, the Kentucky Student Success Collaborative - the first statewide program in the nation to bring together all sectors to improve underserved student outcomes - and the performance funding model for higher education, which incentivizes campus progress in equity metrics. 

Outside of higher education, Thompson has served on several non-profit and private sector boards, including the corporate board for Baptist Health Care. This experience translated into a deep understanding and commitment to aligning postsecondary outcomes to workforce development. Thompson has led the charge on several CPE workforce initiatives, including the Healthcare Workforce Collaborative, which seeks to strengthen Kentucky's healthcare workforce, and the Kentucky Graduate Profile, a statewide effort to instill employability skills into curriculum of all public postsecondary programs.

A well-renown researcher and academic, Thompson has authored or co-authored numerous books and peer-reviewed publications on diversity, cultural competence, first-year experience programs, retention and student success, among other topics. His expertise and commitment to furthering higher education have resulted in an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (L.H.D.) degree and the designation of professor emeritus from Eastern Kentucky University, honorary L.H.D. degrees from Brescia University and Union College, and the Thomas R. Ford Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Kentucky. 

Other recent awards include induction into Kentucky’s Civil Rights Hall of Fame, the Lucy Harth Smith-Atwood S. Wilson Award for Civil and Human Rights in Education, and the Health Care Governance Leadership Award from the Kentucky Hospital Association, among others.


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Last Updated: 4/17/2024