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Outstanding Alumni – Austin Lacy (PhD 2011)

Betz Kerley

Austin Lacy has advice for those considering a PhD in higher education. “Go to the Institute of Higher Education for the professors and for the tremendous amount of resources available to students.”

For the senior research analyst at the University of North Carolina – General Administration, the IHE was definitely the right place for him. “First,” explains Lacy, “the curriculum was very focused on higher education policy. More important though was the opportunity to work closely with many of the faculty on research projects.” Lacy adds, “Particularly great for me was working with Jim [Hearn] since his experience is both in and out of academia. It was also great working with several of the other faculty at IHE. They keep one foot in the policy world which enables students to become more familiar with those environments.”

Lacy’s official job duties include identifying research opportunities, ensuring that annual Board of Governor’s reporting requirements are met on wide topics, and designing and conducting analysis. “What I really do,” clarifies Lacy, “is policy research of all kinds for the state. This may range from legislatively mandated reports to ad hoc last-minute requests from the Governor’s Office, reports to the board, and long-term “special projects.”

Lacy fine-tunes his responsibilities even further by sharing that he is actually in a division of his department called Academic Policy & Funding Analysis. “We conduct research across all domains in the system and work with every other division, but we aren’t responsible in the way another division is responsible for development of campus activity surrounding advising,” explains Lacy. “My responsibility is ensuring that we produce and effectively communicate high quality research that informs policy and practice.”

While Lacy finds his biggest challenge to be communicating research in an effective manner to multiple audiences at the same time; the efforts pay off for him when his research informs and influences policymaking.

Reflecting on his time at IHE, Lacy comments on how the Institute helped prepare him for his career, “Almost all of my research with Jim Hearn had been around comparative state policymaking. To boot, my dissertation was about state governance structures like the one I’m working in.” Lacy also adds, “My training right in the middle of policy and methods was tremendous preparation. I find too often that graduates from [higher education programs come out as methodologists or content experts but at the IHE, you can learn to do both. Lacy concludes, “These are the type of graduates that more higher education programs should be producing.”

“My responsibility is ensuring that we produce and effectively communicate high quality research that informs policy and practice.”

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PhD, 2011

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