KSU researchers offer insight to education policy makers

Greg Phelan
Greg Phelan

KENNESAW, Ga. (Sep 30, 2020)Kennesaw State University’s Office of Research is hosting a one-hour web show every other Friday at 4 p.m. to showcase the varied research being conducted by KSU faculty members. “Research with Relevance” spotlights Kennesaw State researchers in a live interview followed by an interactive question-and-answer session with the virtual audience.

This week’s episode features assistant professor of economics Greg Phelan and limited term assistant professor of economics Heidi Holmes, who are researchers in the Education Economics Center in the Coles College of Business. Their work involves evaluating educational programs for disadvantaged students – with Holmes focusing on K-12 and Phelan on higher education – to provide nonpartisan analysis to education policy makers. Prior to their “Research with Relevance” presentation, Holmes and Phelan answered a few questions about their interest in research and its benefits to students.

How did you first get involved in this field of research?

Phelan: My research interests in the economics of education are inspired by my experience of growing up poor and neither of my parents having a college degree. I didn’t have an example of how to successfully navigate the higher education system, and I struggled. I was fortunate to find good advisors and mentors who encouraged me to pursue a career in research, and I became interested in studying students’ access and success in higher education.

Heidi Holmes
Heidi Holmes

Holmes: I always have loved and been involved in politics. Even throughout high school, I volunteered on many campaigns and worked for various interest groups. As I worked closely with leaders on education issues, I soon found a passion for it and focused my undergraduate and graduate studies in political science and education policy.

What is a common misconception about your field?

Holmes: When people hear that I study education policy, the most common questions I get are, “What school should I send my child to?” or “What is the best type of education?” Research can inform these questions, but each student is unique. I focus my research on how educational institutions can be set up to provide families access to the education that works best for them.

Phelan: People usually have a fairly narrow perception of what they think economics applies to – involving some sort of monetary valuation of something – but they don’t always have to. People have a finite set of resources, such as time, money and cognitive capacity. They have to make decisions about how they’re going to allocate those resources, and I’m interested in discovering why they make those decisions and if the decisions they’re making are worthwhile.

How much has your field changed in the time you’ve studied it?

Phelan: In the last several years, more states have made their student-level data available to researchers or are in the process of designing systems for access to the data. There has been a lot of effort across the country for state and federal education agencies to work directly with researchers in my field to evaluate and design effective policy.

Holmes: To some extent, my field is always adapting as education policies around the country change. With the current pandemic, we have seen dramatic changes in how education is delivered. These changes will inform research questions for years to come as researchers work with policy makers to understand the positive and negative consequences of these changes.

Tune in on Friday, October 2 at 4 p.m. to hear Holmes and Phelan talk about their research and answer your questions. Click here for more information.


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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu

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