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Aaron Thompson - Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

Aaron Thompson - Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

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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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Connections - S15 E19

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Innocence Project - S9 E9

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Diabetes Prevention and Control - S9 E10

Experts discuss the statewide education and prevention methods being dispatched and the changes individuals can make to avoid diabetes.

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Human Trafficking - S9 E11

Renee talks with guests about recent legislation that strengthens Kentucky's human trafficking laws and provides more services to victims and other topics.

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The Forgotten Minority - S9 E12

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Middle Class Struggles and Poverty - S9 E13

Renee's guests are Ron Crouch, demographer and director of research and statistics in the Office of Employment and Training for the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, and Myrdin Thompson of Louisville, an activist with RESULTS, a nonprofit whose mission is to fight hunger and poverty.

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Connections - S15 E20

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Tuskegee Airmen Historians - S9 E14

Renee interviews a trio of men who are either making history or working to preserve it: Reginald "Reggie" Thomas, the third African American in Kentucky history to be elected to the Kentucky Senate; Ron Spriggs, Tuskegee Airmen historian; and Bobby Scroggins, art professor and sculptor.

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Sabrina Butler and Kate Miller - S9 E19

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Dr. Vershawn A. Young - S9 E20

Renee talks with University of Kentucky professor Vershawn A. Young (aka Dr. Vay), an expert of the contemporary African American experience, about his latest published work, Other People's English: Code-Meshing, Code-Switching, and African American Literacy.

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Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker - S9 E21

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50th Anniversary of the March On Frankfort - S9 E22

Renee discusses the 50th anniversary commemoration of the 1964 March on Frankfort with historians and participants including: NAACP Louisville leader Raoul Cunningham and former state Senator Georgia Davis Powers.

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Connections - S15 E21

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Aaron Thompson - S9 E26

Aaron Thompson, executive vice president and chief academic officer of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, discusses the state budget for higher education and the impact on student tuition.

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MaryLee Underwoood and Chastity Ross - CCDD - S9 E27

MaryLee Underwoood and Chastity Ross with the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities (CCDD) discuss recent legislation to protect vulnerable adults against abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

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Dr. Janet Taylor - S9 E29

Renee speaks with Dr. Janet Taylor, psychiatrist, certified life coach, and national commentator on work-life balance and mental health issues.

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Djuan Trent - S9 E30

Former Miss Kentucky Djuan Trent talks about her decision come out as a gay woman, reaction from family and friends, her activism in advancing gay rights and marriage, and more.

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Hasan Davis - S9 E31

Renee speaks with former Kentucky Commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice, Hasan Davis, about recent juvenile justice reform. Davis was featured in the recent PBS Frontline program "Prison State," about Kentucky's correction system, and interviewed for KET's follow-up program, Prison State: A Kentucky Community Conversation.

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Connections - S15 E22

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Prison Reform In Kentucky - S9 E32

Renee continues the discussion about Kentucky prison reform recently highlighted on the PBS Frontline program "Prison State." Her guests are: Mark Bolton, director of the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections; Sheila Schuster, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and mental health advocate; and Ray Larson, Fayette County Commonwealth's Attorney.

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Ted Strader - COPES - S9 E33

Ted Strader, the director of the Council on Prevention and Education: Substances, Inc. (COPES) in Louisville, discusses how partnering agencies with the corrections system can help former inmates with successful re-entry into society.

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Colene Elridge - S9 E34

Renee speaks with human resources professional and life coach Colene Elridge, better known as Coach Colene, owner of Be More Consulting.

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Rape Culture - S9 E35

Renee's guests are Mae Suramek, executive director of the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center and Rus Funk, executive director of MensWork- Eliminating Violence Against Women.

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Mental Health Courts - S9 E36

Kelly Gunning, director of advocacy and public policy, NAMI Lexington (National Alliance on Mental Illness), and Public Defender Jon Landon, discuss mental health laws in Kentucky.

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Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams - S15 E17

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Food Security (Part 2) - S8 E39

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Shevawn Akers - S8 E37

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Kentucky House Minority Floor Leader Joni Jenkins - S15 E16

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  • Saturday January 18, 2020 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 15, 2020 6:00 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 15, 2020 5:00 pm CT on KET
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 11:00 am CT on KET
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 7:00 am CT on KETKY

Dana Branham - S8 E36

  • Friday January 17, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 17, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 17, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 17, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 17, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 17, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Frank Minnifield - S8 E35

  • Thursday January 16, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 16, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 16, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 16, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 16, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 16, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Jakobi Williams - S8 E34

  • Wednesday January 15, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 15, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 15, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 15, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 15, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 15, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Beth Dotson Brown - S8 E31

  • Tuesday January 14, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 14, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 14, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 14, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 14, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 14, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Lexington Artists - S8 E28

  • Monday January 13, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 13, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 13, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 13, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 13, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 13, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Ashli Watts - Kentucky Chamber of Commerce - S15 E15

  • Saturday January 11, 2020 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday January 11, 2020 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 6:00 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 5:00 pm CT on KET
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 11:00 am CT on KET
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 7:00 am CT on KETKY

Byron Hurt - S8 E25

  • Friday January 10, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 10, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 10, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 10, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 10, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 10, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Janet Steele Holloway - S8 E24

  • Thursday January 9, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 9, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 9, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 9, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 9, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 9, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Jane Beshear - S8 E21

  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Dr. Alexandra Bradner - S8 E20

  • Tuesday January 7, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 7, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 7, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 7, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 7, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 7, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Thrivals 5.0 - S8 E19

  • Monday January 6, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 6, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 6, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 6, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 6, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 6, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Dayna Seelig - S15 E12

  • Saturday January 4, 2020 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday January 4, 2020 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 11:30 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 10:30 pm CT on KET
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 6:00 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 5:00 pm CT on KET
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 1:30 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 12:30 pm CT on KET
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 7:00 am CT on KETKY

Derek Anderson - S8 E18

  • Friday January 3, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 3, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 3, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 3, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 3, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 3, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Bianca Spriggs - S8 E16

  • Thursday January 2, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 2, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 2, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 2, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 2, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 2, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Cathy Holloway Hill - S8 E15

  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

M.A.D.E. (Motivating Youth All Day Everyday) - S8 E13

  • Tuesday December 31, 2019 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 31, 2019 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 31, 2019 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 31, 2019 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 31, 2019 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 31, 2019 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Susan Pope - S8 E12

  • Monday December 30, 2019 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday December 30, 2019 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday December 30, 2019 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday December 30, 2019 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday December 30, 2019 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday December 30, 2019 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Pastor Edward Palmer - Racial Bias and Juvenile Justice Reform - S15 E2

  • Saturday December 28, 2019 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday December 28, 2019 3:30 pm CT on KETKY

Mimi Pickering and Dr. Catherine Fosl - S8 E7

  • Friday December 27, 2019 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday December 27, 2019 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
Top

Season 15

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