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Alicia C. Dowd

Dr. Alicia Dowd

Professor of Education (Higher Education); Director and Senior Scientist, Center for the Study of Higher Education

Phone: 814-865-9739

406 Rackley Building
University Park, PA 16802


  • Education Policy Studies


  • Higher Education Program


  • Center for the Study of Higher Education (CSHE)


Dr. Alicia Dowd is a Professor of Education and Director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education (CSHE) at the Penn State. She studies and leads organizational learning issues and changes toward racial equity in higher education.


Dowd directs CSHE’s academic leadership academies and is co-director of Penn State’s Law and Governance Mentoring Roundtables. She is a co-lead of Penn State’s Equity Pedagogy Network and co-chairs the professional development working group of the university’s Joint Curricular Task Force on Racial and Social Justice. From 2009-2015, she co-directed the Center for Urban Education (CUE) at the University of Southern California, where she was instrumental in designing and researching outcomes of CUE’s ‘Equity Scorecard’ action research process.


An action researcher who has engaged in collaborative, mixed-methods research throughout her career, Dowd conceptualizes and designs for change utilizing cultural-historical activity theory and critical race theory. She is the author (with Estela Mara Bensimon) of Engaging the “Race Question”: Accountability and Equity in U.S. Higher Education (Teachers College Press, 2015), which teases out the conflicting ideologies and theories of justice that underlie practitioners’ sense of right and wrong concerning matters of access, equity, and quality in college access and student outcomes.


Through numerous published case studies of ‘equity-by-design’ strategies, Dowd has advanced an understanding of the leadership, policy, and learning structures needed to support the development of racial equity change agents at historically and predominantly white colleges and universities. Areas of focus have included institutional accountability, curriculum reform, racial equity in access to STEM degrees, community college financing, and transfer pathways to bachelor's and advanced degrees.


Her published works include topics such as “Leadership for equity-minded data use towards racial equity in higher education,” “The role of institutional agents in providing institutional support to Latinx students in STEM,” “Sustaining organizational change towards racial equity through cycles of inquiry,” “Managing change toward racial equity in higher education through competing for institutional logics,” “Assessing equitable access to STEM fields of study,” and “Silence is complicity: Why every college leader should know the history of lynching.”


Dowd’s scholarship has been funded by the Spencer, Ford, Gates, Hewlett, Lumina, Nellie Mae, Jack Kent Cooke Foundations, and the National Science Foundation. Through service to federal agencies, including the Congressional House Subcommittee on Research and Science Education, the National Science Foundation, and the National Academies of Sciences, Dowd has been a policy advocate for greater diversity and equity in STEM fields. From 2016-2022, Dowd served as associate editor of the Review of Educational Research (RER), the #1 education/education research journal in global rankings.

Areas of Expertise


Education Access
Equity and Diversity

Education Levels


Educational Studies

Critical & Feminist Theory
Cultural Studies

Individual Difference

Conceptual Change
Learning Processes
Sexual Orientation

Leadership Preparation

Higher Education Leadership

Methodological Research

Discourse Analysis
Institutional Research
Interpretive Research
Multiple Methods
Policy Analysis
Qualitative Research

Social Issues

Education and Law
Education Policy
Race and Ethnicity

Organizational Management

Management & Leadership

Human Resources and Work

Organization Development
Workplace Training
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