Aaron Thompson, President of Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, visited Eastern Kentucky University as part of his Listening Tour throughout the Commonwealth.
The Listening Tour started Feb. 1 in his hometown of Manchester and EKU was the tenth stop on Oct. 9. The tour is designed for Thompson to listen to students, faculty and community members about their needs and concerns and what the council can do to better serve Kentucky.
“One of the things that we’re doing is really build a communications paradigm talking about why higher education matters. Only 53.5 percent of our students graduating from high school go on to college. Many of the reasons we heard is that many people feel they can’t afford college,” said Thompson.
Affordability is a key concern across the state along with taking out student loans to pay for college. Thompson said he’s heard questions about student loans repeatedly throughout his tour. He says that most students who borrow money to pay for college are unsure about how much money to borrow and if they’ll be able to pay it back.
“One of the things we heard is that people didn’t really know how much they should borrow for the degree they’re getting,” Thompson said. “We heard that from many college students. Let me be clear, borrowing money through student loans is low-cost low-interest rate and if you get a credential that matters, and it gets you a job that makes enough money to pay it back, that’s an investment and that’s good, right? Great return on an investment. What’s not a good return on investment is if they borrow money, don’t get the credential, or they borrow money and don’t get a credential, that would not get them a sustainable employment to pay it back or enough money in that employment to pay it back. Well, then that’s a big ol’ ball and chain around their neck. Heard a lot about people worrying about that.”
While on his tour at EKU, Thompson said he had heard from EKU students that there is a need for student support services around mental health. EKU students also felt a strong relationship with their faculty. During his time spent with faculty and the community, EKU professor of psychology, Matthew Winslow, asked how Thompson would revamp general education requirements.
“After talking to so many students who have graduated, we’re going to change the gen ed policy and we’re going to move toward employability skills, essential skills throughout the college career. How do we do that? We’re interested in working with EKU and other campuses to think innovation around this,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s Listening Tour concludes in November with stops at the University of Kentucky on Nov. 18-19 and at the University of Louisville on Nov. 20. More information can be found at https://cpe.ky.gov/listeningtour/.