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Aaron Thompson - Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

Aaron Thompson - Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

Renee speaks with Aaron Thompson, Ph.D., president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, about student loan debt, how his agency is working to communicate the value of postsecondary education and all its options, dealing with state funding challenges, and how universities are adapting to rising cases of student anxiety and depression.
S15 E5 Length 28:02 Premiere: 9.29.19

Current Challenges and Successes in Postsecondary Education

Since the start of the recession in 2008, overall state funding for higher education in Kentucky has declined by more than a third. While most states are now increasing appropriations for their public colleges and universities, Kentucky is one of two states that continues to slash higher ed budgets.

The cuts have forced schools to become more efficient, says Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education President Aaron Thompson. But the reductions have also resulted in tuition increases for students, little or no pay raises for staff and faculty, and reductions in vital support services.

“They did cut the fat and they had fat to cut, and they got to a point at where they started cutting the bone,” he says. “We now are at a point whereby if we don’t start reinvesting in higher education… then we’re going to create more harm.”

Thompson appeared on KET’s Connections to discuss state funding, school affordability, and getting more students into the college pipeline.

Funding Cuts Impact Affordability

Under CPE rules, Kentucky’s public universities and community colleges can only recoup 60 percent of state funding cuts through student tuition. Thompson says the council also caps the amount that schools can raise tuition and fees within a given two-year budget cycle.

Still, the average college tuition in Kentucky rose by nearly $2,900 between 2008 and 2018, according to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Student debt is also on the increase. In the last 15 years, Thompson says the average college loan debt has doubled in the commonwealth from $14,000 to about $28,000 per student.

“We can’t deny there’s not an affordability problem here,” he says. “There is.”

That doesn’t mean that a technical credential or a college degree is beyond the reach of Kentuckians. Thompson says many prospective students don’t realize that there’s a difference between the tuition sticker price and what people actually pay after financial aid is added to the calculation. He says a forthcoming report from CPE shows that students completing a four-year degree in Kentucky only paid about 48 percent of the actual tuition costs. For students earning an associate degree or credential, the out-of-pocket costs are even lower, he says.

Yet many people still don’t know they’re eligible to receive financial aid. Thompson says that’s especially true among first-generation college students or students from low-income families who may never seek tuition assistance or apply too late to receive it.

Thompson says CPE and schools need to do a better job of communicating the true cost of a credential or degree to prospective students. He says they also need to help students understand that graduating with school-related debt isn’t a bad thing if the amount of loan is in line with the earning power of the degree or credential they’ve achieved.

“If I in fact borrow money and get that degree and get a job that allows me to pay the loan back and do other things, then that loan is an investment,” says Thompson. “If I don’t get that certificate or degree, then I think [that debt is] a chain around my neck forever.”

That doesn’t mean that students have to pursue a degree in technology, engineering, or health care fields. Thompson contends that liberal arts degrees do have value in the labor market.

“If you think about preparing our economy for five, 10, 15, 20 years down the road, we’re going to have to have these baccalaureate degrees as well as these advanced degrees to make that happen because these students are going to create jobs that we don’t even know exist yet,” he says.

Keeping Students in the College Pipeline

Since becoming CPE president about a year ago, Thompson has traveled the state on a listening tour to learn about the concerns of students, parents, educators, and community leaders. He says he’s hearing many of the same issues, whether he visits urban or rural parts of the commonwealth: People believe that higher education is important, but they don’t always know the best way to access it or pay for it. He says many people also have the misunderstanding that higher education only means a four-year degree, when it actually includes two-year degrees, technical credentials, or job-related certificates.

Currently only about 45 percent of Kentuckians have a postsecondary degree or credential. CPE wants to increase that to 60% by the year 2030. Thompson says the state is well on its way to achieving that goal, but several challenges lay ahead. There are fewer youth in the commonwealth, which means there are fewer students moving into the college pipeline. He says its incumbent upon education officials to direct as many of those students as possible into a college or university.

“We have to design a better pipeline between [pre-kindergarten through high school] and higher ed to really connect these students with an understanding that they can get a postsecondary credential that matters, that suits them,” says Thompson.

Another factor is that community college enrollments have dropped in the past few years as the economy has improved. Thompson says that creates another opportunity to inform people about the value of up-skilling, our enhancing a job certification they already have, as well as using community college attendance as cost-effective path to a full degree.

“You can get really your first two years of education at a much lower price and then move on to a four-year institution to finish your baccalaureate degree,” he says. “This can be used as an affordability pipeline… so it’s crucial that we’re helping our students to understand not only the career paths they can go into or the degrees or credentials they can get, but how to get it at the lowest price possible.”

Thompson says community college students who transfer to a four-year institution are 75 percent more likely to graduate than a student who is native to that school. That’s why he also wants to make it even easier for students to move from a Kentucky Community and Technical College campus to a full university.

Legislative Priorities for 2020

Lawmakers will craft a new state budget during the 2020 General Assembly session. Thompson says CPE will seek increased funding for higher education, which he says will likely need to funnel through the new performance-based funding model that ties state appropriations to a school’s ability to meet certain metrics.

“In order for a performance-funding model to really work, we have to put funding in that model,” he says.

Legislators did allocate $31 million in performance-based funding in the last state budget, which was divided among the state universities and colleges. But Thompson fears the focus on specific metrics like improving degree attainment and reducing achievement gaps between certain student groups could be counterproductive. He says that could force schools to direct their limited resources on meeting those metrics and drain funds away from other functions like student counseling and support services that he says are vital to help young people perform at their best while in school.

CPE also may explore more funding for the Work-Ready Scholarship program, which helps those with a high school diploma or GED pay for schooling to complete an industry-recognized certification. Thompson says the scholarships need to be rebranded to help people better understand the program and its benefits.

Finally Thompson hopes high school and colleges will put more emphasis on mental health counseling, financial literacy, and life skills training for students.

“These are the sorts of things that are crucial in the way that we’re helping our students not only to get a good college experience but how to use their lives once they get out of college,” he says.

Related Stories

Aaron Thompson on Kentucky’s Higher Education Goals

KCTCS President Jay Box Outlines Goals in Postsecondary Education

Pathways for Tomorrow’s Workforce: A KET Forum

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Each week, host Renee Shaw and a variety of interesting and engaging people - including business leaders, entertainers, authors, celebrities, and more - explore a broad array of topics impacting Kentucky and the world.

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  • Sunday October 17, 2021 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday October 16, 2021 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday October 16, 2021 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday October 13, 2021 11:30 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday October 13, 2021 10:30 pm CT on KET
  • Wednesday October 13, 2021 6:00 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday October 13, 2021 5:00 pm CT on KET
  • Sunday October 10, 2021 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday October 10, 2021 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday October 10, 2021 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday October 10, 2021 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday October 10, 2021 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday October 10, 2021 11:00 am CT on KET

Aaron Thompson - S17 E5

  • Sunday October 10, 2021 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday October 10, 2021 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday October 6, 2021 11:30 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday October 6, 2021 10:30 pm CT on KET
  • Wednesday October 6, 2021 6:00 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday October 6, 2021 5:00 pm CT on KET
  • Sunday October 3, 2021 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday October 3, 2021 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday October 3, 2021 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday October 3, 2021 11:00 am CT on KET

Infant Nutrition and Breastfeeding - S10 E42

  • Friday October 8, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday October 8, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday October 8, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday October 8, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday October 8, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday October 8, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Cathe Dykstra - Family Scholar House - S10 E41

  • Thursday October 7, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday October 7, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday October 7, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday October 7, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday October 7, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday October 7, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Gigi Butler - Gigi's Cupcakes - S10 E39

  • Wednesday October 6, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday October 6, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday October 6, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday October 6, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Cathy Zion - Zion Publications LLC - S10 E38

  • Tuesday October 5, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday October 5, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday October 5, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday October 5, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Susan and Morgan Guess - S10 E34

  • Thursday September 30, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday September 30, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday September 30, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday September 30, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday September 30, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday September 30, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Jay Williams - S10 E33

  • Wednesday September 29, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 29, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 29, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 29, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 29, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 29, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Pellom McDaniels - S10 E30

  • Tuesday September 28, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 28, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 28, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 28, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 28, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 28, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Kiley Lane Parker - S10 E29

  • Monday September 27, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday September 27, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday September 27, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday September 27, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday September 27, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday September 27, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Whitney Austin - Reducing Gun Violence - S17 E4

  • Sunday October 3, 2021 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday October 3, 2021 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday October 2, 2021 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday October 2, 2021 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 29, 2021 11:30 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday September 29, 2021 10:30 pm CT on KET
  • Wednesday September 29, 2021 6:00 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday September 29, 2021 5:00 pm CT on KET
  • Sunday September 26, 2021 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday September 26, 2021 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday September 26, 2021 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday September 26, 2021 11:00 am CT on KET

Kevin Chapman - S10 E28

  • Friday September 24, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 24, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday September 24, 2021 2:11 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 24, 2021 1:11 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday September 24, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 24, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Kendell Nash - ECHO - S10 E27

  • Thursday September 23, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday September 23, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday September 23, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday September 23, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Dorothy Edwards and Diane Fleet - S10 E26

  • Wednesday September 22, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 22, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 22, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 22, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Lois Combs Weinberg - S10 E25

  • Tuesday September 21, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 21, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 21, 2021 2:03 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 21, 2021 1:03 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 21, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 21, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Elaine Chao - S10 E23

  • Monday September 20, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday September 20, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday September 20, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday September 20, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday September 20, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday September 20, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Filmmaker Sarah Burns - S17 E3

  • Sunday September 26, 2021 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday September 26, 2021 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday September 25, 2021 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday September 25, 2021 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 22, 2021 6:00 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday September 22, 2021 5:00 pm CT on KET
  • Sunday September 19, 2021 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday September 19, 2021 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday September 19, 2021 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday September 19, 2021 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday September 19, 2021 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday September 19, 2021 11:00 am CT on KET

Charlene Buckles and Dan Wu - S17 E2

  • Sunday September 19, 2021 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday September 19, 2021 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday September 18, 2021 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday September 18, 2021 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 15, 2021 11:30 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday September 15, 2021 10:30 pm CT on KET

Diabetes Epidemic - S10 E20

  • Friday October 1, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday October 1, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday October 1, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday October 1, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday October 1, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday October 1, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Friday September 17, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 17, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday September 17, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 17, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday September 17, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 17, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Mary Gwen Wheeler, 55,000 Degrees - S10 E16

  • Thursday September 16, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday September 16, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday September 16, 2021 2:20 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday September 16, 2021 1:20 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday September 16, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday September 16, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

15K Degrees Initiative - S10 E13

  • Wednesday September 15, 2021 10:29 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 15, 2021 9:29 pm CT on KETKY
Top

Season 15 Episodes

UK College of Education Dean Julian Vasquez Heilig

S15 E24 Length 26:41 Premiere Date 3.22.20

Kentucky Treasurer Allison Ball/McLeod's Coffee House

S15 E23 Length 27:27 Premiere Date 3.15.20

Kentucky Auditor Mike Harmon

S15 E22 Length 28:22 Premiere Date 2.23.20

Georgetown College President William Jones

S15 E21 Length 27:02 Premiere Date 2.16.20

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles

S15 E20 Length 28:52 Premiere Date 2.9.20

Kentucky House Minority Whip Angie Hatton

S15 E19 Length 28:47 Premiere Date 2.2.20

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron

S15 E18 Length 28:17 Premiere Date 1.26.20

Secretary of State Michael Adams

S15 E17 Length 28:47 Premiere Date 1.19.20

Kentucky House Minority Floor Leader Joni Jenkins

S15 E16 Length 22:01 Premiere Date 1.12.20

Ashli Watts - Kentucky Chamber of Commerce

S15 E15 Length 26:32 Premiere Date 1.5.20

U.S. Attorney Robert Duncan

S15 E14 Length 27:18 Premiere Date 12.15.19

Inclusivity in Fashion - Frankie Lewis; RaeShanda Johnson

S15 E13 Length 28:52 Premiere Date 11.24.19

Dayna Seelig

S15 E12 Length 26:57 Premiere Date 11.17.19

Rachael Denhollander

S15 E11 Length 26:42 Premiere Date 11.10.19

Beth Silvers and Sarah Stewart Holland

S15 E10 Length 26:55 Premiere Date 11.3.19

Alice Allison Dunnigan - Pioneering Journalist

S15 E9 Length 26:37 Premiere Date 10.27.19

Sharon Price and Damon Cobble

S15 E7 Length 27:07 Premiere Date 10.13.19

Terry Brooks - Kentucky Youth Advocates

S15 E6 Length 27:47 Premiere Date 10.6.19

Aaron Thompson - Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

S15 E5 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 9.29.19

Opioid Addiction Response and Research

S15 E3 Length 28:42 Premiere Date 9.15.19

Pastor Edward Palmer

S15 E2 Length 28:07 Premiere Date 9.8.19

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers

S15 E1 Length 28:14 Premiere Date 9.1.19

Explore KET