Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education helping lead the charge on DEI
Written by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE)
In FY 2020, SHEEO surveyed its members to understand the key functions SHEEO agencies perform. Of those key functions, from 2019–2020, managing equity and diversity programs saw an increase from 17 to 23 (42.6% of survey respondents) SHEEO agencies performing this function. The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education is one of the SHEEO agencies that perform this function and can serve as inspiration for agencies beginning their equity journey.
When the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) was established in 1997, our state was still working with the federal government to bring higher education into full compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
That’s hard to believe, given the momentum today.
More than any other institution in Kentucky, higher education is now an engine of equity and inclusion. Colleges and universities are transforming our workforce and training a new and diverse generation of leaders for the challenges ahead — and students of color are succeeding like never before.
Much of this progress stems from our work at CPE, which was reconstituted as Kentucky’s higher education coordinating agency through a major legislative reform, in part to ensure compliance with federal civil rights law. Prior to 1997, those duties fell to a similar agency called the Council on Higher Education.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are — quite literally — embedded in our history and mission, and since our founding, few commitments have yielded more transformative results.
Consider our current statewide DEI Policy, launched in 2016. This initiative called on state colleges and universities to create individualized diversity plans and demonstrate gains in three key areas. Those include recruitment and enrollment of diverse students, student progression and success, and overall campus inclusivity.
Each year, our DEI unit evaluates campuses on their progress. Any institutions that fall short lose eligibility to offer new academic programs until they develop a performance improvement plan. So far, the results have been striking.
Since the 2015–16 academic year, the number of underrepresented minority students (URM) graduating with a bachelor’s degree has soared more than 27%. That’s nearly three times the rate for all students combined. Enrollment among URM students has also grown 13% over the same period.
Meanwhile, the six-year graduation rate among URM students has jumped more than 5 percentage points compared to five years earlier.
Our DEI efforts have centered on the premise that, to truly prepare students for life and work in an increasingly diverse society, our state colleges and universities must embrace equity at every level and commit to transparent, measurable improvements in student outcomes.
But these goals require adequate training on campus. That’s why CPE is also launching a cultural competency certification process. This optional, statewide process for certifying programs in cultural competency is provided for institutions who wish to align their cultural competency program with statewide standards and award micro-credentials to faculty, staff, and students in recognition of completing the program.
CPE developed this process in collaboration with our campuses, and we refined it last year by hosting a four-part professional development series for all CPE staff. We expect to roll out the program statewide this year.
Our DEI unit is optimistic due in part to the high level of support and trust we receive from CPE’s leadership team. In fact, our cultural competency certification process is based on a theoretical framework that CPE President Aaron Thompson developed several years ago. One of his first initiatives as president was creating this unit to focus more heavily on DEI issues.
In addition to overseeing our statewide DEI policy, the unit serves as a resource hub for campuses and coordinates our Academic Leadership Development Institute, which provides professional development and networking opportunities for URM faculty and staff.
Last year, we also launched the Higher EDquity campaign, an online symposium and webinar series focused on DEI issues. The effort has generated tremendous interest; our audience often totals more than a thousand viewers. That demonstrates the eagerness on campus to embrace change.
Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of Kentucky’s Higher Education Desegregation Plan with the federal government. Even though Kentucky has long since met the plan’s criteria, our work is still evolving, and the last several years have shown that DEI will continue to expand in new and exciting ways.
CPE is committed to leading the charge.