New Higher Education Policy Voice: Dominique Baker

Dominique Baker (@bakerdphd) is a second-year assistant professor of education policy at Southern Methodist University, where her research focuses on student financial aid and equity in higher education. A prolific scholar (her CV is available here), her work addresses policy-relevant topics in a way that should be the goal of every assistant professor. (Also, SMU does a great job highlighting the research of their faculty members, which is a nice model for other universities to follow.) Her work is informed by her time working in college access, including one year in the Virginia College Advising Corps and three years in the admissions office at the University of Virginia. Her experience working with students from lower-income families led her to do research on student financial aid and allows her to bring real-world experience to studying the topic.

Along with my Seton Hall colleague Richard Blissett—another great junior faculty member—Dominque published an article in The Journal of Higher Education examining potential factors associated with the development of student diversity movements on college campuses. The article got quite a bit of media coverage, including a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Dominique also published a great article in The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science with Will Doyle of Vanderbilt examining whether community college students who borrow have different academic trajectories than those who do not. They find a relatively small negative relationship between borrowing and long-term credit attainment, which adds to an interesting literature on the effects of debt.

Note: This is the final installment in the New Higher Education Policy Voices series for 2018. Please keep sending along recommendations for great people to keep an eye on, as I hope to do another series in the future. Here are the other individuals in this series:

Chris Marsicano, Vanderbilt University

Denisa Gándara, Southern Methodist University

Ellie Bruecker, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Oded Gurantz, Stanford University (University of Missouri-Columbia in fall 2018)

Amy Li, University of Northern Colorado

Benjamin Skinner, University of Virginia

Kelly Rosinger, Penn State University

New Higher Education Policy Voice: Kelly Rosinger

Kelly Rosinger (@kelly_rosinger) is a first-year assistant professor in the Department of Education Policy Studies at Penn State University. Before that, she was an Institute of Education Sciences postdoc at the University of Virginia, where she worked with Ben Castleman’s Nudge4 team applying behavioral interventions to improve the college choice process. An expert in experimental and quasi-experimental research methods, Kelly’s work focuses on the barriers students face on the way to and through college and the impact of policies and interventions aimed at helping students navigate college decisions. Her work influenced by her experience working in admissions at the University of Georgia.

Kelly has a new article in press at Education Finance and Policy that reports findings from a field experiment and quasi-experiment examining the impact of a recent federal policy effort to simplify financial aid award offers on borrowing. The study shows that the informational intervention reduced borrowing at colleges enrolling high shares of Pell recipients and underrepresented minority students, suggesting such interventions may be particularly salient to students who face greater informational barriers to college. She also co-authored an article in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (which was just republished in a high-profile book) examining whether test-optional admissions practices at elite liberal arts colleges actually result in a more diverse student body. You can hear Kelly discuss the research on the Matt Townsend Show. They found that at those particular colleges, test-optional practices did not increase diversity.

New Higher Education Policy Voice: Benjamin Skinner

Benjamin Skinner (@btskinner) is a first-year research assistant professor in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. His research interests include quantitative methods, the geography of opportunity, and broad-access colleges. While working on his dissertation at Vanderbilt, he co-authored two great articles with his committee chair Will Doyle. The first, in Economics of Education Review, estimated the economic returns to college using geographic variation in the location of colleges to draw causal inference. The second, in The Journal of Higher Education (and an article that I use in my higher ed finance class), used a similar estimation strategy to look at the relationship between years of education and civic engagement.

Ben is perhaps best known for his incredible work with data—and for his willingness to share his code and materials with the general public. (More scholars should be doing this!) For example, the “code” page of his website includes helpful packages to help download and manage the massive College Scorecard dataset and how to work with LaTeX files. He has also put together some interesting data visualizations of college opportunity that look great and tell a compelling story. There is also quite a bit of material on his GitHub page, which is a great way to work with large data files (and something that I probably should learn at some point).

New Higher Education Policy Voice: Amy Li

Amy Li (@AmyLiphd) is a second-year assistant professor in the Department of Leadership, Policy, and Development at the University of Northern Colorado. Given that her research interests are in the areas of higher education finance and policy, it is no surprise that our paths quickly crossed on the conference circuit. Amy then reached out to me as she was finishing her PhD at the University of Washington to talk about future plans after graduation. We had a nice Skype conversation, and then a day later we received a call for paper proposals from The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science for a special issue on student loan debt. We decided to put in a proposal for a paper comparing factors affecting student loan default and repayment rates, which was accepted. I enjoyed working with Amy on the resulting article, which was recently cited in Senator Lamar Alexander’s white paper on Higher Education Act reauthorization. We also have more follow-up research in progress on this topic.

Amy has written several articles on state performance-based funding policies using both qualitative and quantitative methods (an unusual skill for a researcher). This includes topics such as what leads states to adopt performance funding, the policies’ implications on equity, and how institutions are interpreting these policies. She has also received two research grants: one to examine the equity implications of tuition-free college programs and one examining the price sensitivity of law school students.

New Higher Education Policy Voice: Oded Gurantz

Oded Gurantz (@odedgurantz) earned his Ph.D. in education policy from the Stanford Graduate School of Education, and will begin as an assistant professor at the Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri in Fall 2018. He is currently working as an associate policy research scientist at the College Board, where he uses the College Board’s great datasets to help answer important policy questions regarding the choices students make in high school and how they impact student success.

Oded is another doctoral candidate whose CV far exceeds those of most doctoral candidates of even five years ago. Oded has engaged in a number of projects evaluating the educational and labor market impacts of financial aid. Along with his dissertation mentor Eric Bettinger and a team of researchers, Oded worked on a rare long-term evaluation of a state financial aid program: the merit and need-based Cal Grant program. They were able to use tax data to examine long-term earnings of students, finding a modest but significant effect of receiving the grant on earnings around age 30. Work in progress is examining the impacts of aid for a variety of groups, including: older, non-traditional students; high school students offered “free” community college through the Oregon Promise; and students attending for-profit colleges.

He also conducted a fascinating study on course availability in California community colleges, which was published in The Journal of Higher Education. He found that many students waited to enroll for required classes until the very last minute, which can affect the likelihood of completing college. One implication of the study is that policies that shift registration priorities – determining which students get to select courses first – may not produce large differences in the population of students who ultimately enroll in community college courses.

New Higher Education Policy Voice: Ellie Bruecker

Fridays in the higher education policy world have a little extra meaning thanks to Ellie Bruecker (@elliebruecker), a PhD student in the Department of Education Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Every Friday, she eagerly awaits Federal Student Aid’s release of the number of high school students who file the FAFSA by state so she can share the results via Twitter. She also works with Nick Hillman at Madison to help share the data via Nick’s great blog.

Ellie’s research interests span both K-12 and higher education finance (we need more of this!), and the FAFSA filing work is a great example. Higher education folks are really just beginning to grapple with questions of resource adequacy that K-12 people have thought about for a long time. She has worked on examining issues of K-12 voucher funding in Wisconsin and school finance as well as how California community college students afford their education. Ellie also participated in AEI’s Education Policy Academy last summer, which helps to expose graduate students to the policymaking process and how to get their work out to decisionmakers.

New Higher Education Policy Voice: Denisa Gándara

Denisa Gándara (@GandaraDenisa) is a second-year assistant professor in the Department of Education Policy and Leadership at Southern Methodist University. Her research focuses on state-level higher education finance policies, and she is one of a small number of scholars who can combine expertise in qualitative and quantitative methods with deep knowledge of the state policymaking process.

Much of Denisa’s research has examined state performance funding policies in higher education, which have spread throughout much of the country in the last two decades in spite of (to this point, at least) generally having at most very modest effects. In an article recently published in The Journal of Higher Education, Denisa worked with Jennifer Rippner of the University System of Georgia and Erik Ness of the University of Georgia to interview stakeholders in three states to learn more about how national organizations have helped to foster the spread of performance funding.

She then teamed up with Amanda Rutherford of Indiana University to look at whether states that directly rewarded underrepresented students in their performance funding models–the newest wave of performance funding strategies–were effective in increasing minority and low-income student enrollment. In this article (just out in Research in Higher Education), they found some evidence that the incentives achieved this goal.

New Higher Education Policy Voice: Chris Marsicano

First of all, a big thank you to my readers for responding to my previous blog post with a great list of advanced graduate students, postdocs, and new assistant professors who are on the frontiers of higher education research and public engagement. I’m still taking nominations (self or other), and will run a piece on a new voice every week for as long as it takes to cover the entire list.

This is particularly timely, as Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute just released his annual Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings that attempt to highlight university faculty who share the same goals as Chris and the other scholars that I will highlight in this series. Five years from now, expect to see a number of these individuals on that list for the contributions to higher education policy discussions!

The first person I am pleased to highlight is Chris Marsicano (@ChrisMarsicano), a PhD student in the Department of Leadership and Policy Studies at Vanderbilt University. Chris is putting the finishing touches on his dissertation this spring, and he could not have chosen a more policy-relevant topic. He is examining the higher education lobbying process in Washington using both quantitative and qualitative methods (see more about his research here). This has come in handy as small items like tax reform and Higher Education Act reauthorization have percolated in the nation’s capital.

In addition to studying a policy-relevant topic, Chris has been able to project his research out to the general public through his blog and through writing for a broad audience. He used his lobbying experience to advise graduate students who opposed the proposed tax on tuition waivers in the tax bill, starting a Twitter thread that got over 5,000 retweets—and the attention of the Los Angeles Times. The newspaper asked him to write an opinion piece on the topic, which prominently ran in the print edition. That’s pretty darn unusual for a graduate student and highlights why Chris is a great person to lead off this series.