New Dean Hopes to Heighten Wilson School's Influence on Policy


Cecilia E. Rouse
September 03, 2012

Many prominent thinkers work in the offices of Prince­ton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Starting this month, it will be Cecilia E. Rouse's job to manage all 80 of them.

"It'll be interesting," says Ms. Rouse, with a laugh. She is taking over as dean of the school, where she has taught and conducted research for 20 years. "But I'm not a dictator. I've always viewed the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School as a facilitator who helps the faculty work together as a community."

The faculty includes the well-known economists Paul Krugman and Alan B. Krueger, and the political scientists G. John Ikenberry and Anne-Marie Slaughter.

Ms. Rouse, 48, brings to the job a reputation for top-flight research in labor economics as it relates to education policy making. She is founding director of the Princeton Education Research Section, an interdisciplinary unit that promotes the use of research in such policy making. She has also worked at high levels of government service. From 2009 to 2011 she was one of three members of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers. From 1998 to 1999 she served the White House on the National Economic Council.

At Princeton, Ms. Rouse has most recently held a named professorship in the economics of education. She came to the university in 1992 as a freshly minted Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University. Her research topics have included the economic benefits of community-college attendance, the effect of private-school voucher programs on student achievement, and the impact outcomes of "blind" auditions on the hiring of women as symphony-orchestra members (she is herself a longtime flutist).

She also has written influentially on shortcomings at various levels of education, and on the effects of student-loan debt on the career choices of college graduates.

Making education loans affordable and informing borrowers of the risks are government responsibilities, she says. "We don't want students to go bankrupt because they have not done so well in realizing what the risks of investing in education are." Nor should students be discouraged from going into public-sector jobs because of the pressure to earn a high income to repay student loans, she says.

Ms. Rouse grew up as the daughter of a research physicist and a school psychologist. Both her siblings are academics. Though she says she wasn't aiming for the dean position, an invitation by the search committee to apply for the post rekindled her aspiration to be involved in academic administration.

She sees two major tasks ahead. The first is to consolidate changes in the Wilson School's undergraduate curriculum that were shepherded in by the former dean, Christina Paxson, who is now president of Brown University.

Also on her agenda is to bolster the influence of Wilson School research on policy making. Whether or not faculty members spend time in Washington, as she did, their challenge remains the same: to reach interested audiences, at national and local levels.

For example, she asks, what is the best way to inject scholarly research into policy circles, and "how do you get information to parents about issues that are important for their children?" A model she has in mind is the one she and colleagues at the Wilson School and the Brookings Institution adopted when they started the journal The Future of Children, in 2005. In overviews of pressing topics, and at conferences for educational practitioners, she says, the priority of the journal's editors has been "to highlight the critical issues, and to write about them in a very accessible way."