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Cecilia Orphan

Assistant Professor of Higher Education, University of Denver
Chapter Member: Colorado SSN
Areas of Expertise:
  • Civic Engagement
  • Colleges & Universities

About Cecilia

Orphan's research interests include higher education public policy and finance, regional comprehensive universities, and civic engagement. She studies the ways higher education is governed and funded by policymakers, and how these strategies affect the ability of colleges and universities to be community engaged and promote educational opportunity. Orphan has done research on the effects of performance funding on the mission of regional comprehensive universities and how political rhetorical frames the purposes of higher education in policy debates. Finally, she studies how college campuses might understand the measurable contributions they make to regional civic health and equity. 

From 2006-2011, Orphan directed the American Democracy Project, a New York Times sponsored national civic engagement initiative of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. The project involved 240 regional comprehensive universities in institutionalizing opportunities for marginalized students to be civically and politically engaged. She has served as an election poll worker and volunteer for various civic and educational organizations. As a professor, Orphan teaches community-based learning classes and engages in community-based research.


"The Role of Intermediary Public Policy Organizations in Shaping the Policy Agenda for Higher Education," (with Sophia Laderman and Ryan Evely Gildersleeve), University of Denver Morgridge College of Education, June 1, 2018.

Examines how intermediary public policy organizations affect the policy process by engaging in agenda setting.

"'Building Bridges, Not Fences': A History of Civic Engagement at Private Black Colleges and Universities, 1944-1965" (with Marybeth Gasman and Dorsey Spencer). History of Education Quarterly 55, no. 3 (2015): 346-379.

Draws on how the unique histories of these various sectors of higher education position them for civic engagement work as well as the institutional efforts to engage local communities.

"Student Political Engagement in the Co-Curriculum: Understanding the Role of Senior Student Affairs Officers" (with Demetri L. Morgan). eJournal of Public Affairs 5, no. 2 (2016): 10-39.

Uncovers how the socialization of senior student affairs officers influences approaches to student civic/political development.

"Public Purpose under Pressure: Examining the Effects of Neoliberal Public Policy on the Missions of Regional Comprehensive Universities" Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement 22, no. 2 (2018).

Presents a qualitative case study of four regional comprehensive universities grappling with their public purposes within a state policy and funding context shaped by neoliberal ideology. Carries long-term implications for the future of community-engaged research, the civic education of students, and the public purposes of higher education.