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Cecilia Orphan

Assistant Professor of Higher Education, University of Denver
Chapter Member: Colorado SSN

About Cecilia

Cecilia M. Orphan, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Denver. Cecilia is a leading researcher studying Regional Comprehensive Universities (RCUs) (also called Public Regional Universities). RCUs have been called “democracy’s colleges” and “higher education’s workhorse” given their important role in expanding educational access and serving their regions. Cecilia’s research shows how state and federal public policy affect the essential RCU mission. Cecilia also researches the role of think tanks, philanthropic foundations, and elected officials in setting education public policy. From 2006-2011, Orphan directed the American Democracy Project, a New York Times sponsored national civic engagement initiative of the Washington, D.C.-based American Association of State Colleges and Universities. ADP involves 240 RCUs 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. Cecilia is an at-large member of ASHE’s Council for Public Policy in Higher Education. In 2011, Cecilia was awarded the John Saltmarsh Award for Emerging Leaders in Civic Engagement. She holds a Ph.D. in higher education from the University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Portland State University, an RCU in Portland, Oregon.

In the News

Cecilia Orphan quoted on funding formulas that hope to drive outcomes sought by Colorado could really have some unintended consequences for the student experience by Jason Gonzales, "Colorado Hopes a New Higher Education Funding Formula Will Make a Difference for Students. It May Not Be Easy." The Colorado Sun, August 12, 2020.
Cecilia Orphan quoted on regional comprehensive universities by Jaime Adame, "Board approves Drale to serve two-year term as UALR chancellor" Arkansas Democrat Gazette, September 13, 2019.
Cecilia Orphan quoted on administrative changes by Madeline St. Amour, "Some faculty worry president’s new positions make CU system admin-heavy" Daily Camera, July 20, 2019.
Cecilia Orphan quoted by Rick Seltzer, "Squeezed From All Sides: Opportunities and Challenges for Regional Public Universities" Inside Higher Ed, July 8, 2019.


"Fostering Collective Impact: Measuring and Advancing Higher Education’s Contributions to Civic Health and Equity in Colorado" (with Deborah Romero and Liliana Diaz-Solodukhin). International Journal of Research on Service-Learning & Community Engagement 6, no. 1 (2019): Article 5.
"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.

"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. 

"'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.