Kentucky higher education’s top spot goes to Clay County native

Council on Postsecondary Education vice president Aaron Thompson has been named president of the group.
Council on Postsecondary Education vice president Aaron Thompson has been named president of the group. Council on Postsecondary Education

Kentucky’s higher education governing board did a national search for its next president but chose the local candidate.

Aaron Thompson, the executive vice president and chief academic officer of the Council on Postsecondary Education will begin his new job on Nov. 1. His predecessor, Robert King, resigned earlier this year and is headed to the U.S. Department of Education under President Donald Trump.

He is the first Kentucky native and black person to hold the position since the council was created 21 years ago. The council coordinates Kentucky’s higher education systems, sets tuition increase limits and tracks the progress of universities.

“Time and time again, we have relied on Aaron as an essential advocate and leader across many fronts, including the critical areas of college opportunity and student success,” said Council Chairwoman Sherrill Zimmerman. “We are confident that he will be the innovative, dynamic and transformational leader that will benefit Kentucky higher education and our students.”

Thompson beat out Robert Donley, the former executive director and chief executive officer for the Board of Regents, State University System of Iowa; and Emily Anne House, the chief policy and strategy officer for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation.

Thompson was raised in Clay County and went to Eastern Kentucky University as the first person in his family to attend college.

“As a native of Clay County, a son of an illiterate coal miner and a mother with only an eighth grade education, I am not only a first-generation college graduate, I am a first-generation high school graduate,” he said Thursday. “Now, I am immensely fortunate to have an opportunity to represent that great opportunity to all citizens of Kentucky.”

Thompson got degrees in political science and sociology from Eastern Kentucky University, and then went to the University of Kentucky to earn a master’s degree and a doctorate in sociology.

Thompson joined the council in 2009. In May 2016, he left the council for more than a year to serve as interim president of Kentucky State University.

He serves on numerous state and national boards. Council officials said they would negotiate a contract at the Nov. 15 meeting.