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. 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.
Cooper is responsible for stewardship of the organization’s rich history of addressing the educational needs of today’s students, particularly underserved students, many of whom are low income, students of color, and adults. She raises awareness of the organization by 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 the analytic expertise used to inform and shape national, state, local and institutional policy reform.
On behalf of IHEP, Cooper has raised millions to create and maintain strong partnerships with national and international leaders from the postsecondary, policy, philanthropic, business and civic communities. Under Cooper’s leadership, IHEP has developed a policy agenda to align the organization’s future work through four priorities: (1) access and success pathways, (2) college affordability and institutional finance, (3) meaningful data for accountability and transparency, (4) supporting critical communities and critical institutions serving 21st-century students. Because of IHEP’s nonpartisan, evidence-based approach to advancing postsecondary education, Cooper is often asked to provide advice to Congressional and state legislative staff. She has provided testimony to the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and the U.S. House of Representatives’ Education and the Workforce Committee.
With a career rooted in the postsecondary community, Cooper also has served as the deputy director for the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance at the U.S. Department of Education. The Advisory Committee was 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, the Council for Independent Colleges and King’s College.
Cooper is a member of the board of directors for uAspire and the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars. She also serves on several advisory boards, including the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education and the African-American Male Initiative. 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 highly sought-after contributor to the national discourse, providing commentary to media outlets such as C-SPAN, FOX News, NPR as well as The Chronicle of Higher Education, Huffington Post, The Hill, Inside Higher Ed, USA Today, and Washington Post. She has written extensively and co-authored Becoming a Student-Ready College: A New Culture of Leadership for Student Success, which reverses the college readiness conversation to offer a new paradigm on institutional value-add in boosting student outcomes.
Cooper is the recipient of several awards recognizing her work in advancing economic and educational opportunities. She has been awarded the prestigious Aspen Institute Presidential Fellowship (2016); the Center for Nonprofit Advancement’s EXCEL (Excellence in Chief Executive Leadership) Award (2014), as well as Politic365’s “Game Changer” (2012, 2013) – 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. In 2012, the Black Women’s Agenda honored Cooper 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 of 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 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, SC, 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 also is a member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
A fierce advocate for equity and social justice in higher education, Cooper is well-versed in higher education access and success (domestic and international), with special emphasis on equitable reform of higher education, college affordability and financial aid policy, institutional accountability, diversity and equity, and other national higher education trends and policies. In addition to be a content expert, Cooper has demonstrated strong leadership skills, marked by proven success in strategic planning, fiscal management and revenue generation. She is politically and business savvy with the ability to build relationships and consensus among diverse constituencies. Cooper has gained worldwide respect and has strong networks both nationally and internationally.