Michelle Asha Cooper headshot

Michelle Asha Cooper

Vice President for Public Policy and Executive Director of Lumina’s Washington, D.C., Office

Articles by Michelle

Michelle Asha Cooper, Ph.D., leads the development and implementation of state and federal policy initiatives for Lumina Foundation, an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. She works to advance the foundation’s support for 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.

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.

Cooper previously served as deputy undersecretary, acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education, and deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs at the U.S. Department of Education. In these roles, she led higher education’s pandemic recovery efforts by managing $76 billion in pandemic aid for students and institutions; oversaw a $3 billion grantmaking portfolio supporting programs that built capacity at colleges and universities, including those that serve large numbers of under-resourced students. She also 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 served as the president and chief executive officer of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, where she managed the organization’s expansive research portfolio and advocacy agenda. She has also held leadership positions at the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance (U.S. Department of Education), the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the Council for 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.

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We need more students at elite colleges from low- and middle-income families, not fewer

Even with American higher education’s need for reform, our system is the world’s envy. This is partly because of the diversity of institutions students in the United States can benefit from, including prestigious, world-class universities and research centers. For a privileged few, success at an elite school can open doors to service in the halls of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the inner sanctum of the White House. These graduates often land coveted positions at Fortune 500 companies, investment banks, and tech startups.