INDIANAPOLIS—Michelle Asha Cooper, Ph.D., deputy undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Education, will join Lumina Foundation on Oct. 3 as vice president for public policy and executive director of Lumina’s Washington, D.C., office.
Cooper will lead the development and implementation of state and federal policy initiatives that advance the foundation’s efforts to support today’s students at community colleges and four-year colleges and universities. Cooper brings a wealth of experience, a deep devotion to students, and an acute understanding of policymaking at all levels. She will use these attributes to advance Lumina’s strategic plan and elevate its commitment to ending systemic racism in higher learning.
Cooper is among the nation’s most influential voices in championing access and success for all students in education. She knows firsthand the transformative power of education and shares Lumina’s conviction for advancing racial and economic equity and making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. Cooper brings more than 20 years of experience and boundless optimism to this role as a recognized advocate for equity and social justice, experienced practitioner, demonstrated leader, and a true collaborator.
“Michelle is a dynamic, proven leader committed to addressing the myriad of issues facing American higher education, including racial injustice and economic inequality,” said Jamie Merisotis, Lumina’s president and CEO. “I am eager for her to join us and to learn from her experiences.”
Cooper has served in the Biden administration as deputy undersecretary, acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education, and deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs. Cooper led higher education’s pandemic recovery efforts in these roles by managing $76 billion in pandemic aid for students and institutions. She supported the Education Department’s efforts to mitigate the financial harm of the pandemic by helping student loan borrowers at the highest risk of falling behind in their payments or loan default through targeted debt relief.
Cooper launched the Raise the B.A.R.: Bold + Action + Results campaign that celebrates reforms that drive social and economic mobility among U.S. students. She also was responsible for a $3 billion grant portfolio supporting college and university programs, expanding global awareness, and building their capacity. These institutions included community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and other Minority-Serving Institutions.
Before joining the administration, Cooper served as president and chief executive officer at the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) for more than 12 years. She also held leadership positions with the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, the American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U), The Council of Independent Colleges, and King’s College.
Cooper is a native of Charleston, S.C., and lives in Washington, D.C., with her family. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of Charleston, a master’s from Cornell University, and her doctorate from the University of Maryland, College Park.