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.
Examines how intermediary public policy organizations affect the policy process by engaging in agenda setting.
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.
Uncovers how the socialization of senior student affairs officers influences approaches to student civic/political development.
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.