Kathleen M. Shaw

Executive Director




B.A. in English: Colby College
Ph.D. in Higher Education: University of Michigan


Dr. Kathleen M. Shaw became Executive Director of Research for Action in December 2009. Since then, she has overseen a four-fold growth in the size of the organization, and has greatly increased the scope of its regional and national work while maintaining a commitment to Philadelphia. Under her leadership, RFA has developed a robust quantitative shop to compliment the strong foundation of qualitative expertise for which RFA has been known, and has established significant capacity in p-16 educational policy research.

Shaw also plays a leadership role on several research projects, including a multi-state study of postsecondary completion policy development for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She serves on multiple task forces and committees in the city and region as well. Prior to her arrival at RFA, Kate served for three years as Deputy Secretary of Postsecondary and Higher Education in the Pennsylvania Department of Education. As Deputy, Kate was primarily responsible for developing and implementing policy designed to increase the quality and accessibility of postsecondary education throughout the state. She has also overseen the creation and implementation of a statewide college transfer system; major reforms in teacher preparation and the preparation and professional development of educational leaders; the expansion of Pennsylvania’s longitudinal data system into the postsecondary arena; increasing the prominence and effectiveness of the state’s community colleges; and a major restructuring of the state’s college retention program to focus on concrete educational outcomes.

Kate was also a faculty member at Temple University for ten years in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, and served as Chair of that Department as well. Her scholarship has focused on issues of access and equity in higher education with a particular emphasis on policy issues, and has been supported by a number of foundations including Russell Sage, Spencer, Annie E. Casey, Ford, Atlantic Philanthropies, and the Lumina Foundation. Her book “Putting Poor People to Work: How the Work-First Idea Eroded College Access for the Poor” was published in 2006 by the Russell Sage Foundation Press, and was selected as a finalist for the C. Wright Mills Award of the American Sociological Association. Her co-edited volume (with Donald Heller) entitled “State Postsecondary Education Research: New Methods to Inform Policy and Practice” was published in 2007.

Kate has also held positions at the Harvard Family Research Project and the Pew Charitable Trusts, and has served as a Senior Research Associate for the Community College Research Center at Columbia University. She received her bachelor’s degree from Colby College, and her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.