About IHEP / Our Story

Our Story

How did we become a leading and trusted source for policymakers and postsecondary leaders looking for strategies to achieve equity and solve our nation’s most pressing education challenges?

In 1993, two innovators who recognized the transformative potential of higher education established the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) to provide policy-relevant research and promote college access and success for underserved students. At the time, policy conversations largely excluded the voices of historically underserved students and failed to support their access and success. Drawing on their experience at The National Commission on Responsibilities for Financing Postsecondary Education, Jamie P. Merisotis and Colleen T. O’Brien set out a groundbreaking agenda to explore questions of access to and success in postsecondary education from an independent perspective.

Thirty years later, the nonpartisan nonprofit they began has grown thanks to the service of talented team members. From interns to our Board of Directors, our vibrant team includes a variety of backgrounds, races, genders, countries, creeds and other ways we identify. We are united in our vision in which all people, regardless of background, race, or circumstance, have the opportunity to reach their full potential by participating and succeeding in higher education.

Equity is not simply “centered” in our work – it is our work. We maintain a particular focus on historically underserved students, while recognizing that term “underrepresented,” like “underserved,” is commonly used but also commonly misunderstood. The fact that many students historically have not been served by our higher education system and presently are not represented in that system is an intentional result, not an unfortunate coincidence.

In the words of our former President, Michelle Asha Cooper:

“For too long, our higher education system has operated on policies, practices, and assumptions that inherently privilege white, wealthy, and well-connected students over their peers. The insidious policies that disadvantage Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other students of color, as well as low- and moderate-income students do more than limit their potential. They limit the potential of our higher education system to be a true arbiter of social mobility and justice. But the way we’ve been isn’t the only way we can be. Our higher education system can rise to this moment and fulfill its mission for all students, by reframing, rethinking, and even rebuilding.”

IHEP’s careful research, policy expertise, and innovative initiatives help higher education do exactly that; we inform high-impact policies at every level that can “rise to this moment” and address our nation’s most pressing education challenges.

Over the years, we pushed the field forward on countless critical topics, including expanded opportunity for incarcerated students, investing in Minority-Serving Institutions, the success of Tribal colleges and universities, the unique needs of two-year colleges, maximizing distance learning, the need for improved postsecondary data, the transformative potential of degree reclamation, the role of community-based organizations, approaches to national and state attainment, and the relationship between financial aid, credit transfer, and degree completion.

Our work focuses on today’s students, including students of color and historically underrepresented populations, students from low-income backgrounds, adult learners, students who are immigrants, first-generation students, students with disabilities, student parents, and student veterans. From tax policies and price escalation to funding shortfalls and grant aid, we identify the challenges standing between students and success, and propose innovative yet replicable research-based policy solutions at the federal, state, and institutional levels that benefit students, as well as communities, institutions, and society writ large.