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President's Message

President Aaron Thompson
Dear Friends,

I am excited to share the good work happening across the state to help all students succeed, particularly those who have been the most disenfranchised. As recently announced, credentials awarded to underrepresented minorities significantly increased at every level over the past five years. From short-term certificates to doctorates and everything in between, Kentucky’s progress is nothing short of remarkable. Yet, there is much work ahead since low-income and underrepresented minority students are statistically less likely to complete their degrees than the overall student population. 

Closing these achievement gaps is one of my key priorities and is at the heart of the Kentucky Public Postsecondary Education Policy for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as adopted by the Council. This policy is one of the most comprehensive in the nation and is the only one that ties new academic program approval to outcomes of campus progress toward educational opportunity goals. This game-changing policy is the subject of an interview with Travis Powell, our vice president and general counsel, who led the collaborative process to develop the policy. With a full year of campus implementation now behind us, it is clear that promising practices are emerging that will help students succeed.

Across our great Commonwealth, campuses are creating inclusive communities that are inviting and welcoming to all students, regardless of their backgrounds. Through videos provided by the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, you can watch students talk about the importance of these efforts to their educational experiences.

Also highlighted in the newsletter are interviews with two members of our Committee on Equal Opportunities (CEO), the group that developed our policy. The first interview features Dr. Robert Staat, the faculty representative to the Council on Postsecondary Education and the newly appointed chair of the CEO. The second interview is with Robert Croft, senior counsel at Humana, who serves as a community representative to the CEO.

Kentucky needs all students participating and achieving at equitable levels to break intergenerational cycles of poverty, improve health outcomes and create great citizens with bright futures. Further, all students benefit from diversity, inclusion and equity efforts. Employers consistently tell us they need graduates ready to succeed in an increasingly diverse global economy and understand how to work and interact with people from diverse backgrounds.

Because of the importance of these initiatives, I am pleased to announce that I have appointed Dr. Dawn Offutt as director of initiatives for diversity, equity and inclusion. In this leadership role, she will work directly with the campuses and the Committee on Equal Opportunities to fulfill the work of the policy and planning processes.

Thompson signature
Aaron Thompson, Ph.D.

Thumbnail image of Thompson's video
Click the image to view President Thompson's YouTube video on why higher education matters to him.

New strategies ensure campus diversity: A conversation with CPE VP Travis Powell

Travis PowellThe Committee on Equal Opportunities presented results of its first comprehensive review of campus progress tied to the Kentucky Policy for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the Council’s June meeting.

Travis Powell, vice president and general counsel, oversees the new work in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion. He provided an update on campus progress after the first year of the policy’s implementation.  

Powell said the campuses did well overall in implementing their campus diversity, equity and inclusion plans during this first year of evaluation.

“We were pleased to see overall significant improvement in the success of our underrepresented minority population,” he said, adding that while there was some overall improvement with our low-income population, he’d like to see more in the future.

“The qualitative portion of the evaluation was very new, and for the first time through this process, I was very pleased. The thoughtfulness and desire to do good work in these areas was clearly present, and the fact that we are systematically capturing it is a win for the state.” 

The policy’s annual reporting format includes quantitative measurements of progress in the following areas:
  • Undergraduate and graduate enrollment of underrepresented minorities.
  • Graduation rates of underrepresented minority and low-income students.
  • Degrees and credentials awarded to underrepresented minority and low-income students.
  • Diversity of the campus workforce.
Reporting also includes a new qualitative narrative - a “lessons learned” section - that requires each campus to reflect on its progress in each area and discuss any changes they plan to make moving forward as a result.

Powell believes that continuous improvement is the ultimate goal. 

“In today’s fiscal environment, it is extremely important to ensure that we are allocating resources to the best ways possible. Through reflection, campuses can make informed decisions on whether or not a strategy should be continued, expanded, redesigned or completely discontinued,” said Powell. “The only way to improve on anything you do is through reflection. We wanted to make sure to build this into the annual review process, not only for the sake of the campus implementing the strategy, but also for other campus staff who can learn from these experiences.”  

Kentucky is the only state in the nation to tie new academic program approval to outcomes of campus progress toward equal educational opportunity goals. Campuses not making sufficient progress toward these goals will work with Powell, Dr. Dawn Offutt and the Committee on Equal Opportunities to develop plans and timelines for improvement.  

Powell said three campuses stood out when it came to strategies for improvement:
  • Henderson Community College (HCC) – The campus’ goal was to increase visibility into the community. Staff worked with community leaders to gauge opinions of the campus’ diversity efforts and followed with an event targeted to attract African American and Hispanic residents. While increased community involvement helped attract African American students, HCC will ramp up its efforts for Hispanic students, who are a growing demographic in the service region.
  • Hazard Community and Technical College (HCTC) – In order to improve retention, HCTC shifted to a more personalized approach to advising, which featured more mentoring of minority students, as well as completion of an individualized completion (or graduation) plan. This helped both students and advisors track progress to graduation, as well as alert the advisors when a student was off track.
  • Northern Kentucky University (NKU) – The campus engaged 65 students, faculty and staff to serve on committees to develop NKU’s 2022 Inclusive Excellence Plan and metrics. To strengthen diversity efforts of the individual colleges, the campus implemented unit-level “inclusive excellence plans” that aligned with the university’s overarching plan. These plans helped focus efforts on marketing and communications to a variety of student demographics.
The policy introduced a new, broader definition of diversity,including different ethnicities, races, ages, abilities, sexual identities, religions and income levels. During the plan development and review process, this new definition challenged campuses to reflect upon how they not only serve these various student groups, but also how they create culturally competent students, faculty and staff.

The policy’s addition of equity and inclusion takes campus diversity to the next step of creating an open and accepting environment that aids student success.

“Equity ensures that all have equal access to our institutions and academic programs. Inclusion ensures that, once access is provided and students are on our campuses, they are in an environment where they can be comfortable regardless of their background. It is very difficult to be successful and focus on the challenge that is a college curriculum unless you are in a place where you feel supported.  With equal opportunity and an inclusive environment, we are confident that the achievement gaps between the overall student population and our historically underserved populations can be closed,” said Powell.

Through the policy development and reporting process, the Council also learned some lessons as to how a statewide policy plays out on Kentucky’s campuses.

“Overwhelmingly, the reports showed that campuses were implementing their strategies with fidelity,” said Powell. “However, in some instances, the analysis of strategy effectiveness and lessons learned were not as robust as we had hoped. Through our own reflection, we realized that providing training to the campuses on our expectations in this regard and how reports could be best written would have been of significant value. We are working to develop this training now so that we may provide it in the fall.”

Those with questions about Kentucky’s diversity efforts can contact Travis Powell at or Dawn Offutt at

Quotes iconPerspectives on Kentucky Higher Ed

Dr. Bob StaatDr. Robert Staat,
CPE member and new CEO chair

Newly appointed CEO chair and the CPE's faculty representative Dr. Bob Staat discusses how his campus experience influences his work for the Council, his new role and vision for the Committee on Equal Opportunities and the Council's work in diversity, equity and inclusion.
Read the interview on Policy Insight >>

Robert CroftRobert Croft,
CEO community member

Robert Croft, community member of the Committee on Equal Opportunities, tells us about what motivates him to serve on the committee and what he views as the successes and challenges for Kentucky higher education.
Read the interview on Policy Insight >>


UK and UofL studentsStories iconStudent Stories

Building Belonging at UK: Sophonie Bazile – The University of Kentucky:

Cardinal Experience: Keionna Bailey – The University of Louisville:

CalendarUpcoming Events of Interest

2019 Symposium on Postsecondary Education Trusteeship – The former Governor’s Conference on Postsecondary Education Trusteeship conference has a new name and new one-day format. Open to campus staff and constituent organizations, the event brings together state and national leaders to discuss the issues that will shape how higher education institutions respond to changing demographics, new workforce demands, affordability concerns and increased public scrutiny. It will be held Sept. 17 at the Louisville Marriott East. More information, including registration links, are available at

Higher E(d)quity Symposium – The Council will be sponsoring the first Higher E(d)quity Symposium for campus staff and students Nov. 14 at the University of Kentucky. More information about the event will be available this fall.

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