College of Education > News and Publications > News: July - Sept. 2012 > Former Trustee Rodney Hughes Seeks Ph.D. in Higher Education

Former Trustee Rodney Hughes Seeks Ph.D. in Higher Education

“I’m really bad at predicting where I’ll end up,” says Rodney Hughes, a doctoral candidate in the higher education program at Penn State. Today he researches the effects of tuition pricing on admissions and its relation to the accessibility of higher education. However, this was not always the plan...

Rodney Hughes“I’m really bad at predicting where I’ll end up,” says Rodney Hughes, a doctoral candidate in the higher education program at Penn State. Today he researches the effects of tuition pricing on admissions and its relation to the accessibility of higher education. However, this was not always the plan.

“I didn’t expect that I would come to Penn State for my undergraduate studies. I didn’t think I would go right to grad school after undergrad, and I didn’t think that I’d leave economics to come into the doctoral program in higher education,” he explains. Still, all this has worked out well.

Hughes came from a high school graduating class of only 24 students, which would certainly make a student body of nearly 40,000 seem a little bit daunting. Yet, the experience was quite the opposite. “I actually related a lot of the experiences I had as an undergraduate to some of the good experiences of community that I had at a very small high school,” Hughes explains. He elaborates that in a small school you can participate in a wide variety of activities. “When I came to a much, much larger school, I never really lost that mindset. I just want to try things out and get involved.”

As an undergraduate he participated in two different internships to Washington, D.C. Following his freshman year, he worked with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration in the Office of Service Industries where he learned about the World Trade Organization and international trade negotiations. Later, he returned to the Capitol as an intern at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

There were opportunities abroad as well. Hughes traveled to Greece to attend the International Institute for Political and Economic Studies. “If I had to name the coolest thing I did during my undergraduate studies it would probably be that,” he admits. In Greece, he interacted with students from the Middle East, Turkey, and the Balkans. “It was absolutely fascinating,” he says. He appreciated the opportunity to see so many controversial issues addressed in such an impressive and thoughtful way.

After receiving his bachelor of science degree in economics, he started his graduate studies, also in economics. Not even the busy life of a first-year graduate student could extinguish Hughes’ desire to participate, and he soon successfully applied for a seat as a student member on the Penn State Board of Trustees.

Working on the board was a turning point. He noticed that his interests centered more on his work with the Board than in his academic program. He says, “I felt really strongly about the outside things I was doing around higher education. It’s what motivated me to focus on higher education specifically.” After his three-year term ended in 2011, Hughes was appointed in November 2011 to the special committee that selected former FBI director and federal judge Louis Freeh to investigate allegations of child abuse on campus.

Hughes’ advisor, Dr. John Cheslock, joined Penn State faculty the same semester Hughes switched to the higher education program. “It’s one of those funny, unpredictable things.” Hughes says, explaining the match. Dr. Cheslock also made a switch in his own background from studying economics to higher education,“so as an advisor he’s been able to do quite a bit for me in terms of helping me with that transition.”

All of Hughes’ experience has only added depth to his research. “My research is very much informed by the time I spent serving on the board,” he says. It is no surprise that President Erickson described Hughes’ research as “one of the hottest topics in higher education.” As a result, Hughes was recently awarded a dissertation grant from the Association for Institutional Research supported by the National Science Foundation.

Hughes is reluctant to make any direct predictions about the future. He says, “I’m just trying to keep the same mindset and think about the kinds of things I want to be involved in, but not try and predict too closely what I will end up doing and kind of just be open to things that happen.”

-- by Chris Whitehead (August 2012)