Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

President’s Message: Racing to the attainment finish line

October 29, 2020

Aaron Thompson

The 4 x 400 meter relay is one of the most difficult events in track and field, requiring speed, strategy and serendipity. It's not enough to be simply fast; you have to have the right four runners, in the right order, with perfectly timed handoffs.

The handoffs require tremendous skill and precision and can make or break a team. Dropping the baton, failing to pass in the exchange zone, or leaving the designated lane too early can all result in disqualification.

In many ways, our P-20 educational system resembles a high-stakes relay. The legs of the relay are preschool, primary, secondary and postsecondary education; the baton is the student. If the handoffs aren't smooth—if students leave one level of education unprepared for the next—they may not reach the finish line and earn a postsecondary credential. Without college, students are much less likely to achieve long-term economic security and career success.

There are strategies that can help smooth these transitions. Early college experiences like high school dual credit increase the likelihood that students will enroll in college, persist to a second year and earn higher grades. Aligning high school exit and postsecondary entrance requirements helps students understand the skills necessary for college-level work and avoid remediation. Providing early college awareness and readiness activities as early as middle school establishes a foundation for success.

Raising Kentucky's college-going rate to at least the national average (70%) is critically important. For the last several years, our college-going rate has been just over 50%. Attracting high-wage, high-skill jobs to our state starts with a highly skilled workforce. That begins with our educational system.

Just as it takes more than one strong runner to win a relay, it will take more than one school or organization to build a world-class educational system. Success will require teamwork, innovation and coordination.

I am urging all of our educational leaders, from early childhood to higher education, to renew our commitment to collectively improve Kentucky's P-20 system, from cradle to career. If we master the handoffs, we will win the race.

Thompson signature
Aaron Thompson, Ph.D.

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Last Updated: 7/27/2021