Cecilia Marie Orphan

Assistant Professor

Professional Biography

Dr. Cecilia M. Orphan is an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Denver. Dr. Orphan also serves on the Editorial Board for the eJournal of Public Affairs. Dr. Orphan has served on the board of directors for The Democracy Imperative, the national steering committee of the American Commonwealth Project, the editorial board of Penn GSE’s Perspectives on Urban Education Journal, as co-chair for the Policy, Finance and Economics conference program committee of the American Educational Research Association, and as member of the program planning committee for the International Association for Research on Civic Engagement and Service Learning. Dr. Orphan has held fellowships with the following national initiatives: Publicly Active Graduate Education with Imagining America, Next Generation Engagement Project with the New England Resource Center for Higher Education, and Editorial Fellows with the International Association for Research on Service Learning and Civic Engagement.

Prior to her doctoral program, Dr. Orphan directed the American Democracy Project (ADP), a New York Times sponsored national initiative of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). The 240 regional comprehensive universities involved with ADP focus on higher education's role in educating informed, engaged participants for U.S. democracy. Dr. Orphan also served as the editor of the Academic Leadership and Change Digest series, a collection of queries about current institutional practices that are used by AASCU provosts as they consider new approaches to campus issues.

Dr. Orphan was a 2015 finalist for the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship. In 2011, she was awarded the John Saltmarsh Award for Emerging Leaders in Civic Engagement, a national award given by AASCU presented annually to an emerging leader in the civic engagement field. Dr. Orphan holds a PhD in higher education from the University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Portland State University.


  • Certificate, Hybrid 3D Workshop, University of Denver, 2016
  • Ph.D., Higher Education , University of Pennsylvania, 2015
  • BA, Political Science, Portland State University, 2006


Cecilia M. Orphan, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of higher education in the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. Her scholarly agenda broadly interrogates the following question: What is the role of higher education in a society that aspires to be democratic? To investigate this question, she pursues three tracks:

Research about how neoliberal public policy discourses narrow the purpose of higher education to its purely economic ends.
Research about the role of regional comprehensive universities in promoting educational opportunity and equity, and regional civic, economic and cultural life.
Research about the effects of institutional striving for prestige and legitimacy on the ability and predilection of regional comprehensive universities to enact their public purposes.