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 five-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 robust quantitative and policy research departments to complement the strong foundation of qualitative expertise for which RFA has been known.

In addition to providing strategic direction to all of RFA’s administrative and research functions, Kate also takes a leadership role on several national projects focused on her area of expertise, postsecondary state policy. She also serves on multiple task forces and committees in the city and region, and is an elected School Board member of the West Chester Area School District. Prior to her arrival at RFA, Shaw served for three years as a Pennsylvania SHEEO in her role as Deputy Secretary of Postsecondary and Higher Education in the Pennsylvania Department of Education. She was primarily responsible for developing and implementing policy designed to increase the quality and accessibility of postsecondary education throughout the state. She also oversaw 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, efforts to increase 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 also served as a tenured faculty member at Temple University for ten years in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, where she served as Chair of the Department. She is a well-known expert on state postsecondary policy, and her academic scholarship can be seen in a range of publications including “Putting Poor People to Work: How the Work-First Idea Eroded College Access for the Poor,” which was published by the Russell Sage Foundation Press and was selected as a finalist for the C. Wright Mills Award of the American Sociological Association. She also regularly publishes opinion pieces on a range of education policy topics in local and national media outlets.

Shaw has 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.