Cecilia M. Orphan, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of higher education in the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. Her scholarly agenda broadly interrogates the following question: What is the role of higher education in a society that aspires to be democratic? To investigate this question, she pursues three tracks:
- Research about how neoliberal public policy discourses narrow the purpose of higher education to its purely economic ends.
- Research about the role of regional comprehensive universities in promoting educational opportunity and equity, and regional civic, economic and cultural life.
- Research about the effects of institutional striving for prestige and legitimacy on the ability and predilection of regional comprehensive universities to enact their public purposes.
Dr. Orphan teaches courses on public policy, organizational, social and political theory, and academic governance.
Dr. Orphan served as Co-Chair for the 2018 Public Policy Forum, "Higher Education in the Era of the States: Elevating Equity and Advancing Public Policy," May 10-11, 2018. The Forum inspired conversations about how states might promote equity-focused public policy for education. Presentations were given by representatives from 15 higher education institutions and 13 intermediary public policy organizations including the American Indian College Fund, Complete College America, The Education Trust, the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, Young Invincibles, the Lumina Foundation, and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. The keynote speakers were Drs. Stella Flores, Associate Professor of Higher Education; Director of Access and Equity, Steinhardt Institute for Higher Education Policy, New York University, and Ted Mitchell, President, American Council on Education. The Forum generated 128 unique Tweets using the hashtag #DUPolicyForum. For more information about the Forum, visit this website.
While pursuing her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Orphan served as a pre-doctoral fellow for Penn's Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy. In partnership with the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, she co-founded the Netter Center Mentoring Program that matches Penn students with West Philadelphia high school graduates for yearlong college-focused mentoring relationships. As a graduate research assistant, she supported scholarly projects that examined a variety of issues including data-use of college-access nonprofit organizations, the failure of ideal-centered change on college campuses grappling with their public purposes, and the effects of performance based funding on regional comprehensive universities.
Prior to her doctoral program, Dr. Orphan directed The New York Times sponsored American Democracy Project (ADP), a national initiative of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). The 240 regional comprehensive universities involved with ADP focus on higher education's role in educating informed, engaged participants for U.S. democracy. While at AASCU, Dr. Orphan also served as the editor of the Academic Leadership and Change Digest series, a collection of queries about current institutional practices that are used by AASCU provosts as they consider new approaches to campus issues.
Dr. Orphan is a member of the Scholars Strategy Network where she has contributed policy briefs describing the challenges and opportunities facing regional comprehensive universities. Dr. Orphan currently serves on the Editorial Board for the eJournal for Public Affairs and is a Strategy Advisor for the National Advisory Board of the American Democracy Project. Dr. Orphan has also served on the board of directors for The Democracy Imperative, the national steering committee of the American Commonwealth Project, and the editorial board of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education’s Perspectives on Urban Education journal. She also served as a fellow for the following national initiatives: Publicly Active Graduate Education with Imagining America, Next Generation Engagement Project with the New England Resource Center for Higher Education, and the Editorial Fellowship with the International Association for Research on Service Learning and Civic Engagement.
Dr. Orphan was a 2015 finalist for the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship. In 2011, she was awarded the John Saltmarsh Award for Emerging Leaders in Civic Engagement, a national award given by AASCU presented annually to an emerging leader in the civic engagement field. Dr. Orphan holds a PhD in higher education from the University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Portland State University.
Areas of Expertise
Public Policy and Finance
Organizational Governance and Theory
Regional Comprehensive Universities
Orphan, C. & Reynolds, C. (2019). From impostor to infiltrator: Leveraging working-class funds of knowledge to negotiate and change academic culture. Chapter in Leaps of faith: Stories from working class scholars. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
Orphan, C., Diaz Solodukhin, L. & Romero, D. (2018). Fostering collective impact: Measuring and advancing higher education's contirbutions to civic health and equity in Colorado. International Journal of Research on Service Learning and Community Engagement.
Orphan, C. (2018). Why regional comprehensive universities are vital parts of U.S. higher education. Scholars Strategy Network (SSN).
Orphan, C. (2018). How to advocate for regional comprehensive universities. Scholars Strategy Network (SSN).
Orphan, C., Gildersleeve, R. & Mills, A.P. (2018). State of rhetoric: Neoliberal discourses for education in state of the state addresses and gubernatorial press releases. Journal of Education Policy.
Orphan, C., Laderman, S. & Gildersleeve, R. E. (2018). The role of intermediary public policy organizations in shaping the policy agenda for higher education. 2018 Public Policy Forum, “Higher Education in the Era of the States: Elevating Equity and Advancing Public Policy.”
Orphan, C. (2018). Public purpose under pressure: Examining the effects of neoliberal policy on regional comprehensive universities. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 22(2), 59-102.
Orphan, C. & O’Meara, K. (2016). Next generation faculty in the neoliberal university. Chapter in Publicly Engaged Scholars: Next Generation Engagement and the Future of Higher Education. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
Gasman, M., Spencer, D. & Orphan, C. (2015). “Building bridges, not fences”: A history of civic engagement at private Black colleges and universities. Higher Education Quarterly, 55(5).
Orphan, C. (2015). What’s graduate education got to do with it?: Graduate school socialization and the essential democratic work of the academy. Chapter in Democracy’s education: Public work, citizenship, and the future of colleges and universities. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.
Orphan, C. (2016). Towards a More Just Society: Considering Islam and Muslims in the Classroom. A review of Muslims and Islam in U.S. Education: Reconsidering Multiculturalism. Educational Theory and Philosophy, 48(7).
Orphan, C. & Saltmarsh, J. (2013). Review of Collaborative futures: Reflections on publicly active graduate education. eJournal for Public Affairs, 2(2).
Yarrow, A. & Orphan, C. (2010). Why students need to be informed about our looming fiscal crisis: The America's Future Initiative. PS: Political Science and Politics, 43(2), 319-321.
Orphan, C. (2010). Review of Citizenship across the curriculum. Public Purpose, American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU).
Orphan, C. (2007). Review of Strapped: Why America’s 20- and 30-somethings can’t get ahead. Public Purpose, American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU).