About IHEP

The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization committed to promoting access to and success in higher education for all students. Based in Washington, D.C., IHEP develops innovative policy- and practice-oriented research to guide policymakers and education leaders, who develop high-impact policies that will address our nation’s most pressing education challenges.

Co-founded in 1993 by higher education expert and Lumina Foundation for Education President and CEO Jamie P. Merisotis, IHEP offers a nonpartisan perspective through a staff that includes some of the most respected professionals in the fields of public policy and research. It is committed to equality of opportunity for all and helps low-income, minority, and other historically underrepresented populations gain access and achieve success in higher education. This devotion is the major factor for its five areas of focus:

  • Access and Success
  • Accountability
  • Diversity
  • Finance
  • Global Impact


IHEP envisions a world where all people—particularly populations who have been underserved—have the opportunity to reach their full potential by participating and succeeding in higher education.


IHEP is committed to improving college access and success in higher education for all students—with a special focus on underserved populations—by providing timely research to inform public policy decisions.


Since its founding in 1993, access to postsecondary education has been the central focus of IHEP. The genesis of the organization grew out of a desire to explore questions of access to postsecondary education from an independent perspective, building on the previous experience of founders Jamie P. Merisotis and Colleen T. O’Brien at The National Commission on Responsibilities for Financing Postsecondary Education.

The National Commission on Responsibilities for Financing Postsecondary Education, a congressionally mandated commission, was conceived to address one of the key issues facing American families: how to pay for college. The Commission’s objective was to re-examine the nation’s financing structure for higher education and to develop recommendations for restructuring the system. The Commission’s final report, Making College Affordable Again, was released in February 1993 and represented the culmination of the research and analytic efforts of Commission members, staff, and research teams at the University of Vermont and the University of California Los Angeles. The report identified specific policy concerns, which led to the formulation of policy recommendations, including the Student’s Total Education Package (STEP). The report was well received by the higher education community, policymakers, and the media. The Commission appointed Jamie P. Merisotis and Colleen T. O’Brien to serve as executive director and policy researcher, respectively. IHEP was thereby established to become one of the world's most respected higher education research and policy groups.

Since that time, IHEP has grown in terms of its substantive areas of expertise, and correspondingly, in size and stature. It is now active in a variety of public policy research and programmatic endeavors that inform and influence the policymaking process. These activities include policy reports and studies, seminars and meetings, program management, and capacity building activities such as strategic planning. IHEP’s current staff combines a wealth of knowledge and experience with exceptional research and analytic skills.

The organization’s growth has been achieved through the establishment of partnerships within the research and policy communities, and strategic relationships with a diverse set of foundations, organizations, and domestic and international governments. While the focus of the organization’s work has grown to include topics, its original goal to inform the policymaking process through practical research and policy analysis has endured.