New Faculty Spotlight: Delaney at the intersection higher education policy, funding, admissions and access

The need for expertise in higher education policy and finance couldn’t be timelier, with a Presidential election this year and the health of the economy a constant topic of conversation. For Professor Jennifer Delaney, Berkeley School of Education’s newest faculty member, it is an exciting time to be a scholar and teaching students.

“This is a moment with a lot of upside potential. There’s also a real need for thoughtful people in the policy field to wrestle with some of these enduring questions — how do we allocate scarce resources? How do we think about access and affordability? And what does the future of higher education look like?” Delaney said.

“It’s such a pleasure, a privilege really, to be on the journey with so many students as they think about what their future will be or why they want a degree in education and how they’re going to shape the field.”

Delaney began her own academic journey at the University of Michigan, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English. She went on to Harvard University, where she earned a master’s in higher education, and then came out west to Stanford University to earn her PhD in higher education.

Her current research focuses on how higher education policy, funding, admissions and access intersect, and volatility of state support and budgeting for higher education.

“For most college campuses it’s the state investment that keeps the lights on and the doors open. Today, so much of the federal stimulus funding to higher education during the Covid pandemic has been spent. Where does that leave us?” she said. “How we allocate scarce financial resources reflects societal values. We need to ask those difficult, interrogating questions.”

At Berkeley, Delaney is looking forward to building upon the university’s long history of contributions to the field of higher education.

“This is a great place to be thinking profoundly about what that could be — what is the role of the university? What does that look like for California? What does that look like for the nation? What does that look like for the world?” she said.

In her book, The External Social Benefits of Higher Education (Liton Atlantic Books, 2022), she explores how careful documentation of the social benefits of higher education can provide a rationale for stronger government support.

“Those of us who are higher education advocates need to stress more often how critical higher education is for a well-functioning democracy and to society in general,” she said.

Data show that post-secondary education isn’t only about career training. For example, on an individual level, college graduates better understand their own health and the health of their children; are healthier and smoke less. While on a societal level they vote more; volunteer; commit fewer crimes; donate blood; and are more likely to engage in the political process.

“It’s those social benefits that justify government investment in public education and public access to public education,” Delaney said. “It’s too limiting to think of colleges as only providing a transactional vocational function to churn out workers.”

By Kathleen Maclay
Kathleen is a veteran journalist who has worked for the Contra Costa Times and The Associated Press, and was a media relations specialist in UC Berkeley's Office of Public Affairs.

professor jennifer delaney smiling at camera

About Jennifer Delaney

Professor Jennifer Delaney uses advanced statistical techniques on large scale datasets with an emphasis on quasi-experimental designs. Her scholarship has fallen into two broad categories: higher education finance and higher education policy, admissions, and public support. Intertwining these two areas of scholarship, her work addresses public policy in higher education across institutional, state, federal, and international levels of analysis. She has made both empirical and theoretical contributions to the field. Her scholarship has provided evidence of effective (and ineffective) public policies. She has also developed conceptual models that scholars, policymakers, and institutional leaders use to think about the ways in which higher education is funded.

Prior to joining UC Berkeley, Delaney was a tenured Professor of Higher Education in the Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she was also the Director of the Forum on the Future of Public Education and Director of the Higher Education Program. At the University of Illinois, she was also an affiliate and collaborating scholar with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs and the Center for Social and Behavioral Science. Dr. Delaney was also a member of the Illinois Board of Higher Education serving as the gubernatorially appointed public university faculty representative on the state governing board.

Read Professor Delaney's full biography.