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Erik C. Ness

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Graduate Coordinator and Professor of Higher Education

Erik Ness is professor of higher education and graduate coordinator. Previously, he served as an assistant professor and coordinator of the Higher Education Management program at the University of Pittsburgh and as a policy analyst for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. He earned a B.A. in political science from North Carolina State University, an M.A. in comparative and international education from Loyola University Chicago, and a Ph.D. in education policy from Vanderbilt University.

Ness conducts research on higher education politics and policy. His research agenda follows two paths: (a) public policy effects, especially on students, institutions, and state systems, and (b) public policy-making process, specifically the political dynamics associated with higher education policy adoption. His recent co-edited volume Comparative Higher Education Politics (with Jungblut, Maltais, and Rexe; Springer, 2023) examines governance, finance, policy framing, diffusion, and interest groups in a global context. 

His work also considers the role of intermediary organizations in shaping how policy makers rely on evidence to craft policy in the adoption and implementation of various state higher education policy initiatives, such as college completion strategies and merit-based scholarship programs. Based on this work, Ness developed an FYO seminar—Research Evidence, Alternative Facts, and Fake News—that was recognized with a UGA First-Year Odyssey Teaching Award in 2021.

Ness’s current research examines state authorization of postsecondary education. With support from the State Higher Education Executive Officers association (SHEEO), Arnold Ventures, and the Lumina Foundation for Education, he leads the State Postsecondary Authorization Research Team to analyze the processes for initial authorization and subsequent reauthorization across all 50 states.

Curriculum Vitae:
Phone Number:
  • Ph.D., Education Policy, Vanderbilt University
  • M.A., Comparative and International Education, Loyola University Chicago
  • B.A., Political Science, North Carolina State University
Research Interests:

Professor Ness conducts research on higher education politics and policy. His research agenda primarily follows two paths: (1) public policy effects, especially on students, institutions, and state systems, and (2) public policymaking process, specifically research utilization and the political dynamics associated with state-level higher education policy adoption.


Arnold Ventures & State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO), 2023-2024.  State Authorization Renewal Policy Inventory (sub-award, $40,000)

Lumina Foundation for Education & State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO), 2023-2024.  State Authorization Capacity Research (sub-award, $40,000)

U.S. Department of State & UGA Office of Global Engagement (Co-PI), 2022-2023. Ivory Coast University Partnership Initiative, Phase II ($200,000)

RAND Corporation & U.S. Department of Defense, 2021-2023.  National Guard Youth ChalleNGe and Job ChalleNGe: Metrics for Success (sub-award $33,506)

U.S. Department of State & UGA Office of Global Engagement (Co-PI), 2020-2021.  Ivory Coast University Partnership Initiative ($250,000)

Arnold Ventures & State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) (PI, with Sean Baser Co-PI), 2020-2021.  State Authorization Landscape and Process: An inventory and examination ($23,312) 

William T. Grant Foundation (PI, with J.C. Hearn Co-PI), 2013-2017.  The Distinct Role of Intermediary Organizations in Fostering Research Utilization for State College Completion Policy ($350,000)

Ford Foundation & Tennessee Higher Education Commission (PI, with D. Gándara, M. Deupree), 2013-2015.  Campus responses to outcomes-based funding in Tennessee (sub-contract, $100,000)

University of Georgia, Office of the Vice President for Research, Faculty Research Grants Program (FRG), 2010-2011.  Use of Research Evidence in State Higher Education Finance Policy ($10,302)

Spencer Foundation, 2009-2010.  Research Utilization in the Adoption of State Merit Aid Programs ($39,626)

Ness, E.C., Collins, H., & Birac, B. (forthcoming, 2024). Governing and funding higher education. In L. Cohen-Vogel, J. Scott, & P. Youngs (Eds.). Handbook of Education Policy Research, 2nd Volume. AERA Books.

Jungblut, J., Maltais, M., Ness, E., & Rexe, D. (Eds.). (2023). Comparative Higher Education Politics: Policymaking in North America and Europe. Higher Education Dynamics series. Springer.

Ness, E.C., Rubin, P.G., Gándara, D., & Hearn, J.C. (2023). Political Volatility in State Commitment to College Completion Efforts. In J. Delaney, W. Doyle, & D. Tandberg (Eds.), Volatility in State Spending for Higher Education. (pp. 173-198). Washington, DC: AERA Books.

Ness, E.C., Rubin, P.G., & Hammond, L.D. (2021). Becoming a “game changer”: Complete College America’s role in U.S. higher education policy fields. Higher Education, 82(1), 1-17.

Ness, E.C., Baser, S., & Dean, M. (2021). State Authorization Landscape and Process: An inventory, classification, and analysis. State Higher Education Executive Officers Association [SHEEO].

Ness, E.C., Hearn, J.C., & Rubin, P.G. (2018). The SHEEO and Intermediary Organizations. In D. Tandberg, R. Hanna, & B. Sponsler (Eds.), The State Higher Education Executive Officer and the Public Good. New York: Teachers College Press.

Gandara, D., Rippner, J.A. & Ness, E.C. (2017). Exploring the ‘How’ in Policy Diffusion: National Intermediary Organizations’ Roles in Facilitating the Spread of Performance-Based Funding Policies in the States. The Journal of Higher Education, 88(5), 701-725.

Ness E.C., Tandberg D.A. & McLendon M.K. (2015). Interest Groups and State Policy for Higher Education: New Conceptual Understandings and Future Research Directions. In: Paulsen, M. (ed), Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research. Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, vol 30. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

Ness, E.C. (2010). The Role of Information in the Policy Process: Implications for the Examination of Research Utilization in Higher Education Policy. In Smart, J. (ed.), Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research. Dordrecht: Springer.

News Featuring Erik C. Ness

Two research teams with McBee faculty mentors presented at the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO) symposium on Monday, April 8.

Erik Ness has been named as the next director of the Louise McBee Institute of Higher Education, effective July 1, 2024.

Read university press release:

In February, the Louise McBee Institute hosted nine current students, alumni, and faculty members of the Master’s in Research and Innovation in Higher Education (MARIHE), a collaborative Erasmus Mundus program led by Professor and Department Head Attila Pausits…

Professor Erik Ness co-edited an in-depth look at the current state of research on education policymaking in Canada, the United States, and Western Europe.

by Jewel Caruso

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) recently released the book, Volatility in State Spending for Higher Education edited by Jennifer A. Delaney.

Professor Erik Ness, PhD candidate Sean Baser, and PhD student Matt Dean compiled a landmark survey of higher education authorization practices across the United States. The authors describe the purpose of the report, sponsored by the State Higher Education…

by Jewel Caruso

Erik Ness, professor and graduate coordinator at MIHE, was featured in UGAToday highlighting his path that led to his work in higher education policy.

Erik Ness hosted a great exchange yesterday in Meigs Hall. A delegation from International University of Grand-Bassam met with UGA administrators and faculty to talk strategic planning.

Dr. Erik Ness received a First-Year Odyssey Teaching Award for his class “Research Evidence, Alternative Facts, and Fake News.” In his class, he guided students to seek and evaluate research evidence. He engaged students through practice with critical…

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