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Women's History Month

Debbie Cochrane is Working to Ensure A More Equitable, Affordable, and Accountable Higher Education System

This March, we're recognizing the women who are making history today by working to impact policy change in various areas where Arnold Ventures works.

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March is Women's History Month, and we're celebrating by recognizing the women who are making history today by working to impact policy change in various areas where Arnold Ventures works.

Today we are highlighting Debbie Cochrane, Executive Vice President of the Institute for College Access and Success, a nonprofit, that for over 15 years has worked to close economic and racial gaps in college opportunity. Their research and advocacy work have contributed to making college more affordable, accountable and equitable for students. Cochrane was recently nominated by Gov. Gavin Newsom to head California’s Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE), where she will be working to ensure greater accountability measures are in place to protect students and taxpayers.

Who She Is

Cochrane is an expert on student aid policy and practice and has testified before state and federal policymakers on topics ranging from access to need-based grants to debt relief for defrauded students. Reporters and policymakers frequently cite her research and policy analyses, and she has built statewide coalitions to support strong financial aid programs and better student outcomes.

What She’s Currently Working On

Cochrane is focused on improving public policies, federally and in the state of California, to ensure equitable and affordable higher education opportunity. With the higher education landscape having changed dramatically during COVID-19, she’s working to call attention to what policymakers can do to protect the promise of higher education and ensure students’ college dreams are not curtailed.

Some Questions

Can you talk about how experience in education as a woman has impacted your work and experience?

In many of my professional circles, there are more women than men, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still differences in how their contributions and recommendations are understood. Too often, women are seen as being driven by emotion, and less grounded in reason, than men, and that’s particularly true when your educational background is in social work like mine is. Being passionate can be a strength, but sometimes women need to go the extra mile to demonstrate that they’re also logical, analytical, and practical. The combination of focused passion and analytical prowess is a superpower.

What advice would you have for young women who want to impact change in the field of education?

In any field, my top advice would be to get comfortable asking questions. It is okay to do that privately with someone you trust to start, but asking questions fosters your personal growth and professional contributions. If you hold your questions in, you hold yourself back. At first, it’s completely normal for your questions to be mostly about what an acronym or a bit of jargon means. After a while, your more informed inquiries will help you connect important dots across topics and issue areas, and demonstrate to those around you how the knowledge you’ve amassed is translating into useful expertise. Eventually, your questions will bring about insights that your superiors never thought of — and there’s no better antidote to the "inferiority complex" than that!

The combination of focused passion and analytical prowess is a superpower.
Debbie Cochrane Executive Vice President of the Institute for College Access and Success

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