Who We Are

Michelle Asha Cooper, Ph.D.




In September 2008, Michelle Asha Cooper, Ph.D., became the second president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP)—one of the nation’s most effective voices in championing access and success for all students in postsecondary education. As a results-oriented, decisive leader with significant experience in the postsecondary education field, Cooper is recognized as a well-respected practitioner, researcher, and policy advocate—helping to reaffirm IHEP’s role of ensuring equal educational opportunities for all students.

At IHEP, Cooper is responsible for leading the organization’s rich history of addressing the educational needs of today’s students, particularly underserved students of which many are low income, students of color, and adults. She helps to cultivate broader awareness about the organization by way of identifying innovative solutions that create real change for students who encounter obstacles as they attempt to access and matriculate through postsecondary education. Cooper also oversees the organization’s expansive research portfolio and analytic expertise to inform and shape national, state, local, and institutional policy reform.

On behalf of IHEP, Cooper has raised millions to create and maintain the organization’s strong partnerships with national and international leaders from the postsecondary, policy, philanthropic, business, and civic communities. Most recently, Cooper led the development of IHEP’s new policy agenda to align the organization’s future work through four priorities: (1) Elevating effective pathways for increased degree attainment, (2) enhancing affordability and reshaping college finance systems, (3) promoting and improving meaningful accountability and consumer awareness, and (4) supporting communities and critical institutions serving 21st-century students.

With a career rooted in the postsecondary community, she has served as the deputy director for the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance (Advisory Committee) at the U.S. Department of Education. The Advisory Committee is an independent, nonpartisan committee created by Congress to provide advice and counsel to Congress and the Secretary of Education on higher education and student financial aid policy. 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, Council for Independent Colleges, and King’s College.

Cooper is a member of the board of directors for uAspire, the College of Charleston Alumni Board, and the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars. She also serves on several advisory boards, including CEOs for Cities' Talent Dividend Prize, the International Rankings Expert Group, the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education, and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. In addition, Cooper is a National Leadership Council member of the Association of American Colleges and Universities' Liberal Education and America’s Promise (also known as LEAP), which is a national initiative that champions the importance of a 21st-century liberal education.

Additionally, Cooper is a “thought leader” and regular contributor to the National Journal and Forbes magazine's online education channel, which receives over 40 million unique visitors each month. She is a highly sought-after contributor oftentimes providing commentary to various media outlets such as C-SPAN, FOX News, and NPR as well as The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Hill, Huffington Post, Inside Higher Ed, USA Today, and Washington Post.

Cooper is the recipient of several awards that recognizes her work in advancing economic and educational opportunities for all. For two consecutive years (2013 and 2012), Cooper was selected as a “Game Changer” by Politic365, which recognized her among a distinguished group of bi-partisan, multicultural leaders from across the country whose foresight and active engagement in both the public and private sectors are critical to America’s domestic success and global leadership. The Black Women’s Agenda honored Cooper in September 2012 for her outstanding “economic development contributions to advance, secure, and protect the rights of Black women and their families.”

In November 2011, Cooper, along with the entire IHEP staff, was recognized by the Association for the Study Higher Education for showing exemplary leadership to the higher education community. In 2010, ESSENCE magazine selected Cooper as a “powerful visionary” while celebrating Black women under 40 who are trailblazers. A year earlier, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education magazine also named her “25 to Watch” in its special 25th anniversary issue featuring 25 up-and-coming higher education leaders who are carrying the diversity mantle forward in an avowed commitment to progress; in March 2012, Diverse celebrated Cooper in its first-ever “Women’s History Month” issue issue as one of 25 women who stand out for their ability to forge solutions to the unprecedented challenges faced by the nation’s colleges and universities.

A native of Charleston, S.C., 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 is also a member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

An expert on various higher education issues, Cooper is well versed in higher education access and success (domestic and international), with special emphasis on equitable reform of higher education, financial aid simplification and policy, student success outcomes, institutional accountability, and other national higher education trends and policies.