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Michelle Asha Cooper

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Vice President for Public Policy and Executive Director of the Lumina Foundation's Washington, D.C. Office

Michelle Asha Cooper, Ph.D., is the vice president for public policy and executive director of the Lumina Foundation's Washington, D.C. office.

Previously, Cooper served as the second president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP)—one of the nation’s most effective voices in championing access and success. As president, Cooper continued the organization’s rich history of addressing the educational needs of today’s students, particularly underserved students, many of whom are low income, students of color, and adults. She also oversaw the organization’s expansive research portfolio and the analytic expertise used to inform and shape national, state, local and institutional policy reform.

Under Cooper’s leadership, IHEP developed a policy agenda to align the organization’s future work through four priorities: (1) access and success pathways, (2) college affordability and institutional finance, (3) meaningful data for accountability and transparency, (4) supporting critical communities and critical institutions serving 21st-century students. 

Cooper is a “thought leader” and highly sought-after contributor to the national discourse, providing commentary to media outlets such as C-SPAN, FOX News, NPR as well as The Chronicle of Higher Education, Huffington Post, The Hill, Inside Higher Ed, USA Today, and Washington Post.  She has written extensively and co-authored Becoming a Student-Ready College:  A New Culture of Leadership for Student Success, which reverses the college readiness conversation to offer a new paradigm on institutional value-add in boosting student outcomes.

With a career rooted in the postsecondary community, Cooper also has served as the deputy director for the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance at the U.S. Department of Education. In this position, she interacted with policymakers, oversaw all policy research activities, and managed day-to-day operations. Before joining the Advisory Committee, Cooper held various leadership positions at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the Council for Independent Colleges and King’s College.

A fierce advocate for equity and social justice in higher education, Cooper is well-versed in higher education access and success (domestic and international), with special emphasis on equitable reform of higher education, college affordability and financial aid policy, institutional accountability, diversity and equity, and other national higher education trends and policies. She presented the 2018 Louise McBee Lecture at the University of Georgia entitled, “A New Hope for a Better Tomorrow: Tackling Postsecondary Challenges Today.”

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