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President’s Message

President Aaron ThompsonDear Friends,

Welcome to this inaugural issue of “HigherEdNews.” Bringing you insights into our work, and going behind the scenes to introduce you to our CPE members and higher education staff, “HigherEdNews” will highlight current initiatives, policies and reports, best practices and more.

In this issue, you can read about my five key priorities that will guide our work, top-level findings from my listening tours and a Q&A with Council Chair Sherrill Zimmerman and another with Vice-Chair Ben Brandstetter, among other items.

Let me know what you think about the newsletter and if you have any suggestions for content. Simply email my staff with your suggestions at  cpe.news@ky.gov. I’d also welcome the opportunity to connect with you on Twitter @CPEPres and with our office @CPENews.

Aaron Thompson, Ph.D.


President Thompson unveils top five priorities to guide improvement  

Earlier this year, President Thompson announced five key priorities that higher education will focus on to better serve Kentucky’s students, the workforce and our economy. Along with high-impact strategies, the priorities reinforce the state’s strategic agenda and the diversity and inclusion plans of the campuses.

Each issue of this newsletter will feature one of these priorities. This issue calls attention to the first priority--positioning higher education as the key to social mobility and economic development.

Photos of listening tourThe first high-impact strategy for this priority is the launch of “KYHigherEdMatters” in Council messaging and already popular weekly infographics. Plans call for using data, policy reports and campus stories to demonstrate that higher education is the solution to many of the problems faced by our state.

The second strategy is the statewide listening tour. In addition to listening to the needs and concerns of attendees, President Thompson is also reinforcing the value of higher education and the urgent need for the state to reinvest in higher education. He has completed four legs of his listening tour, including stops at EKU-Manchester, Murray State University, Owensboro Community and Technical College and Western Kentucky University.

Some of the early findings of the tours rank affordability as a top concern, as well as the need for increased financial literacy training, a desire to promote and destigmatize technical education, and the need to improve workforce preparedness. Also, we've learned that some attendees did not know that college also includes certificates, diplomas and other credentials awarded by the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. For more clarification, please see the infographic below.

Following each tour, participants receive an online survey to capture any additional thoughts. Plans call for the Council to issue a report next year that captures this feedback.

To learn more, check out the videos of the EKU-Manchester and Murray State University tours.

What is college?
Feedback of this year's Student Success Summit was extremely positive. While the two-day event featured leading national speakers, the Council was also pleased to showcase more Kentucky-focused presentations this year. One of the highlights was the session that featured student questions posed to the three-person panel of Derrick Ramsey, secretary of the Education and Workforce Cabinet, President Thompson of CPE, and Wayne Lewis, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education. Featured speakers included Bridget Burns (top right) from the University Innovation Alliance shown with President Thompson and Dr. Dhanfu Elston (bottom left) from Complete College America.

Close-up with CPE Chair Sherrill Zimmerman, Vice-Chair Ben Brandstetter

 CPE Chair and Vice Chair

Get to know your CPE leadership! This issue features CPE Chair Sherrill Zimmerman and Vice-Chair Ben Brandstetter with six questions and answers.

Q&A with Sherrill Zimmerman, CPE Chair

What motivates you to volunteer your time on the CPE?
Student success has been a lifelong passion of mine. As a former educator from a family of educators, I’ve seen the difference that education makes in the lives of students and even their families. Serving on the CPE gives me the opportunity to make a difference in the success of students across the state, and that is very rewarding to me.

Read the rest of the interview on Policy Insight

Q&A with Ben Brandstetter, CPE Vice Chair

What motivates you to volunteer your time on the CPE?  
I truly see this role as an opportunity to serve the commonwealth on a statewide basis. Higher education plays such a crucial role in the long-term success of the state. It is an honor to be able to bring my talents to the table so that we can implement the strategic agenda’s primary goal of having 60% of citizens with a postsecondary credential by 2030.

Read the rest of the interview on Policy Insight

Melissa Bell promoted to VP for academic affairs, student success

Melissa BellPresident Thompson recently announced the promotion of Melissa Bell to vice president for academic affairs and student success.

Bell joined the agency’s academic affairs staff in 2006, where she has taken on progressively higher levels of responsibility and challenging assignments. In her most recent role, she served as associate vice president for academic affairs.

“Dr. Bell has led the unit during several times of leadership transition and has shaped much of the agency’s work in the areas of student access and success,” said Thompson. “She is a proven and capable leader and Kentucky is fortunate to have her in this top position.”

Bell will build on her previous experience and accomplishments, and work closely with the campuses to strengthen connections between K-12 and higher education, improve academic quality, close achievement gaps, and develop strong academic pathways to between college and career.  

She holds a doctorate in public policy and administration from the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration and a master’s in international affairs from the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, both from the University of Kentucky, and a bachelor’s in history and political science from Cumberland College.

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