A passionate advocate for equity and social justice, experienced practitioner, and demonstrated leader, Michelle Asha Cooper, Ph.D. is one of the nation’s most trusted voices in championing access and success for all students in higher education.
Dr. Cooper has served as the president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) since 2008. She is the steward of the organization’s rich history of addressing the educational needs of today’s students, particularly adults, Black, Latinx, Indigenous, underrepresented AAPI groups, and other students of color, as well as students from low- and moderate-income backgrounds. Dr. Cooper oversees the organization’s expansive research portfolio and advocacy agenda, which informs and shapes national, state, local, and institutional policy. Along with her team of experts, Dr. Cooper identifies innovations and scalable solutions that create real change for today’s students.
Dr. Cooper fundamentally believes that educational attainment can improve an individual’s life and, in doing so, strengthen families, communities, and the workforce. Through her work and lived experience, Dr. Cooper has witnessed first-hand the transformative power of education. She sees education as a vehicle for social impact and a core tenet of a civil society. These beliefs fuel Dr. Cooper’s passion for postsecondary opportunity and have enabled her to raise millions to advance IHEP’s work and cultivate strong partnerships with national and international leaders from the postsecondary, policy, philanthropic, business, and civic communities.
Under Dr. Cooper’s leadership, IHEP has advanced four policy priorities: 1) ensuring college affordability, with a particular focus on need-based aid; 2) utilizing high-quality data, while ensuring privacy, security, and transparency; 3) providing pathways to degree completion, including through college transfer policies; and 4) promoting access to postsecondary opportunities for individuals impacted by the U.S. justice system. Given IHEP’s trusted, nonpartisan, evidence-based approach to advancing postsecondary education, Dr. Cooper and her team frequently advise Congressional and state, and institutional leaders. Dr. Cooper has also provided testimony to the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, and several state legislative bodies.
Before IHEP, Dr. Cooper held leadership positions at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the Council for Independent Colleges, and King’s College. Dr. Cooper also served as the deputy director for the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance at the U.S. Department of Education.
Dr. Cooper is a member of the board of directors for the College of Charleston Foundation and the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars. She also serves on several advisory boards, including the California Higher Education Recovery with Equity Task Force.
As a co-author of Becoming a Student-Ready College: A New Culture of Leadership for Student Success, Dr. Cooper introduced a new paradigm that flips traditional assumptions on their head and challenges institutions to boost outcomes by identifying student needs and meeting students where they are.
Dr. Cooper’s work advancing economic and educational opportunities has been recognized by various organizations including the Aspen Institute, the Center for Nonprofit Advancement, Politic365’s and the Black Women’s Agenda. Her leadership has been celebrated by several outlets, including ESSENCE Magazine and Diverse Issue in Higher Education. Dr. Cooper has received an Honorary Doctorate Degree and Distinguished Alumna Award from the College of Charleston.
A native of Charleston, South Carolina, Dr. Cooper received her B.A. from the College of Charleston, an M.P.S. from Cornell University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, College Park. She currently resides in Washington DC, and in her spare time, supports the economic revitalization of DC’s Anacostia community, which currently experiences the highest concentrations of poverty and crime within the district. Dr. Cooper also is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.