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CPE President Aaron Thompson Talks "Disrupting" Higher Education

Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education President Aaron Thompson is beginning his tenure in the position by conducting a year-long listening tour. The CPE is the state’s postsecondary and adult education coordinating organization.  Public higher education in the Commonwealth has experienced a continued drop in state funding. Those funding cuts have prompted increases in tuition. 

Now, many public universities are struggling with declining enrollment. WKMS Station Manager Chad Lampe spoke with Thompson about his goals for higher education in Kentucky.  

Interview Highlights:

Listening Tour:

Thompson is embarking on a statewide listening tour which included a stop in Murray on Tuesday. Thompson said the listening tour is designed for the CPE to learn from community members, current students, business owners and prospective students about better serving the state. Thompson said  higher education can and should be an economic driver. He said, “the best way to serve your customer is to ask your customer what he or she needs.”

Thompson said that universities in different parts of the state should provide services regarding a unique economic base in different parts of the state. But he says those regions, “all need highly developed, highly educated workforces.”

Thompson said despite predicted proliferation of artificial intelligence and automation in the workforce, there are thousands of “middle skill” jobs that need to be filled, and will remain keys parts of the state workforce. He said higher education does face challenges to educate and train people to create and fill the jobs of tomorrow, “that haven’t even been thought of yet.”

Enrollment Challenges:

Public Higher Education in Kentucky, with the exception of the land grant universities, have seen enrollment declines. Some much larger than others. While private higher education institutions have experienced continued enrollment growth. Thompson says some of these institutions have been somewhat “disrupters” to the traditional model with significant growth in online education and graduate programs.  

Thompson said,” we cannot do the things we need to do if we are dependent truly on the current percentage we have of students going into college.” The current college-going rate is about 53%, and there is a declining traditional age population group. Thompson said it is going to take more people to go to college, and shape the viewpoint of higher education as, “not just a four year degree.” He also said there needs to be better alignment between P-12 and postsecondary education.

Thompsons said adult learners are an untapped resource for higher education and he hopes to find effective ways to effectively recruit adult learners.


Thompson said affordability can be categorized two ways: perceived affordability and real affordability. He said the “sticker price” is often conveyed well, but the “net price” does not receive the focus it should.

On perceived affordability: Thompson said Kentucky is a “high aid state.” He says public universities  give students as much or more money off the base price than as many of the state’s private institution. Thompson said private institutions communicate this quite well and these reductions are assumed. Regarding, students looking to attend a private university he said, “your just assuming they are going to give you a discount.”

On real affordability: Low income students may receive a lot of aid, Thompson said, but there isn’t enough support for living expenses and the CPE needs to evaluate those needs.


Chad Lampe, a Poplar Bluff, Missouri native, was raised on radio. He credits his father, a broadcast engineer, for his technical knowledge, and his mother for the gift of gab. At ten years old he broke all bonds of the FCC and built his own one watt pirate radio station. His childhood afternoons were spent playing music and interviewing classmates for all his friends to hear. At fourteen he began working for the local radio stations, until he graduated high school. He earned an undergraduate degree in Psychology at Murray State, and a Masters Degree in Mass Communication. In November, 2011, Chad was named Station Manager in 2016.
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