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Kristen Cummings at SHEEO

Connecting state policymakers to strengthen higher education


CSHPE student Kristen Cummings facilitates connection building and information sharing among state policymakers in her role as an intern with the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, or SHEEO. As the national association of the chief executives of statewide governing, policy, and coordinating boards of postsecondary education, SHEEO  promotes an environment that values higher education and its role in ensuring the equitable education of all Americans, regardless of race/ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic factors.

Much of higher education policy takes place at the state level, and SHEEO’s aim is to help support state higher education policymakers and connect colleagues across states who are working on similar challenges. Cummings’ internship work supports these efforts by providing states with information that enables them to work towards their goals and by connecting states who can learn from each other. Currently, she is working on a database that identifies states that are similar across measures like state demographics, higher education financing structures, and political learnings.

There is a nationwide trend toward improving degree attainment, which is being addressed by each state’s higher education policy leaders. States needs can differ, though, since the needs of their citizens vary. This can affect policymaking from one region to another. Cummings explains, “A state like Colorado, which is relatively close to meeting their overall attainment goal but has large degree attainment gaps between White students and Black/Hispanic students may be interested in connecting with other states facing a similar situation, such as Illinois and Massachusetts.” By understanding the data and facilitating useful exchanges, Cummings can help states like these connect with one another about best practices in improving attainment among specific sub-populations. 

“My internship this summer is allowing me to apply what I learned in the classroom to the work being done at SHEEO and to deepen my understanding of state higher education policy and governance. This internship has also helped increase my awareness of and interest in career opportunities in state higher education policy that I can pursue after I have completed my PhD. I hope that the projects that I have worked on this summer will help states develop and strengthen education policies that ensure that postsecondary education is accessible and affordable to all,” she says.

“Quite a few of the classes that I took during my first year in my PhD program have been immensely beneficial to the work that I am doing this summer as an intern at SHEEO,” says Kristen Cummings, CSHPE doctoral student. She cites SOE courses like Public Policy in Postsecondary Education, taught by Dr. Awilda Rodriguez, and Advanced Public Policy Theory with Dr. Stephen DesJardins, as well as the Causal Inference in Education sequence co-taught by the Ford School (faculty include Dr. Christina Weiland, Dr. Susan Dynarski, and Dr. Celeste Carruthers). “These courses gave me a solid foundation in understanding the theoretical, methodological, and more applied aspects of higher education public policy,” she said.

She has also learned from her research advisors, Dr. Steve DesJardins and Dr. Brian McCall, who were “instrumental” in helping her develop the skills to be an education policy researcher. She named Dr. Ozan Jaquette, an SOE alumnus and a current UCLA faculty member, as a great mentor as well. “He is the person who first sparked my interest in higher education policy and higher education research in general,” she said, adding that all three mentors pushed her to become a better researcher and supported her as she explored her interests.