It’s no exaggeration to say that colleges and universities are facing great change. Lawmakers have proposed sweeping legislation around student debt forgiveness, free community college tuition, and changing admissions standards, among other issues. At the same time, higher education faces many challenges including declining enrollment, decreased funding, and the growth in online education.
Understanding how regulatory and policy changes impact students, educators, and institutions is the primary role of education policy analysts. They help colleges and universities, government agencies, lobbyists, and others guide the evolution of postsecondary education, making it more relevant to what students need.
A Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), combined with years of experience as an educator, can lay the foundation for a successful career as an education policy analyst.
What Do Education Policy Analysts Do?
Education policy analysts perform research into the issues facing the education sector and propose solutions. Some of these solutions may be regulatory, others program-based. Analysts are advocates for change and base their advocacy on data-driven research and rigorous testing.
According to a 2020 Resilient Educator guide, some of the responsibilities of education policy analysts include the following:
Research and Evaluate
Policy analysts research the issues that impact higher education. They may be tasked with specific research requests from administrators, lawmakers, or other stakeholders. They then develop the scope of research and identify the pertinent data. Analysts may also conduct research based on their own theories.
Collect, Analyze, and Test Data
In this age of big data, policy analysts need to use data analysis tools to collect, cleanse, and parse data to ensure its accuracy. Data may come from surveys, test results, and macroeconomic sources. Policy analysts then use data analysis methodologies to test their hypotheses.
Monitor and Forecast
A key part of the role of an education policy analyst is to keep up with current events in education, including policy decisions and trends. Analysts need to be able to understand the broad implications of regulatory changes and other issues, using their knowledge and experience to provide expert analysis to various stakeholders.
Analysts report their findings to stakeholders and offer recommendations. Reporting can come in the form of presentations, published articles, and opinion pieces in education journals or other media.
How to Become an Education Policy Analyst
There isn’t a set road map for a career as an education policy analyst. A background in areas such as education, public policy, politics, or public affairs are all common. While it may seem necessary to have teaching experience, it’s not always the case, according to Resilient Educator.
To become an education policy analyst, professionals will need an educational foundation that supports their goals, the appropriate technical skills to do the job, and an understanding of the resources that can help them on their journey.
While some analysts may enter the field with a bachelor’s degree, most employers prefer a master’s or doctoral degree. An advanced degree program provides professionals with the research and analytical expertise needed to succeed in this role. For instance, Ed.D. courses will cover topics such as:
- Coursework will cover how to design and develop a research project and how to conduct research effectively and ethically.
- Coursework will include data collection, management, and analysis.
- Writing and presentation. A typical Ed.D. program will cover reporting on results and findings, a large part of the policy analyst role.
In addition to research-specific coursework, a doctorate in education will include in-depth examination of the practices, policies, and challenges of modern education, specifically those facing colleges and universities. These topics may include the following:
- Administration. Colleges and universities are complex institutions and require a new kind of leadership to adapt to the changing higher education landscape.
- Online learning. Online learning is here to stay and administrators need to understand the technology and how to develop online courses that meet students’ needs.
- Student affairs. Student and academic issues are a fundamental part of higher education.
- Nontraditional student population. More adult postsecondary learners are going back to college or going for the first time. Administrators and policy analysts need to understand how these shifting demographics are changing higher education.
Education Policy Analyst Skills
An advanced degree can better prepare education policy analysts for the day-to-day responsibilities of their jobs. These primary skills can be summed up as:
- Analytical skills. Collecting, maintaining, managing, and analyzing data is critical to this role.
- Analysts must be able to conduct research-based investigations.
- Subject matter expertise. Analysts need to understand complex issues in education, public policy, legislation, and other areas.
- Strong oral and written communication skills are crucial — analysts need to be able to report on their findings, make recommendations, write for publication, and present to stakeholders.
As most educators know, learning and development never stop. Education policy analysts can take advantage of a host of professional resources to enhance their expertise and advance their careers, including professional organizations, policy institutes, and thought leaders in the field. Some resources are included below:
Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management
The goal of the Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management (APPAM) is to support the growth and excellence of research, analysis, and education. It holds an annual research conference and publishes a journal that features research on public policy. It provides career and education resources for its members.
National Education Policy Center
The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) produces research to guide education policy discussions. Its website features blog posts, thought leadership, and topical discussions on the advancement of education policy.
American Youth Policy Forum
The goal of the American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) is to educate policymakers and researchers, among others, about education, youth, and workforce policies that impact marginalized young people. Resources include articles on legislation, college readiness, and youth population challenges such as homelessness.
American Institutes for Research
The American Institutes for Research (AIR) provides evidence-based research into issues that impact schools from pre-K to college. It offers its findings to policymakers, educators, and legislators, among others. Some of AIR’s research has examined career readiness and adult education, both areas of increasing focus.
Education Policy Analyst Salary
While taking public policy analyst positions is often a case of passion for the subject matter rather than a purely monetary decision, there are opportunities to enhance your salary. The median annual salary for education policy analysts was approximately $61,000 as of May 2022, according to salary research site Payscale, with a salary range between $44,000 and $87,000.
Salaries will vary based on years of experience, level of education, and geographic location.
Resilient Educator notes that the general range for educational policy analyst salaries is on the high end for the field of education, with many of these roles also carrying a full suite of health insurance and retirement benefits. For those willing to put in the hours lobbying for meaningful change, the potential rewards are notable.
How Does an Ed.D. Degree Prepare You for an Education Policy Job?
Earning an Ed.D. is a way to build knowledge directly related to education policy. Bradley University’s online Ed.D. program connects students directly with expert faculty deeply involved in the world of higher education and an up-to-date curriculum reflecting today’s policies, technology usage, and student experience.
Courses such as Boards and Educational Governance as well as Ethical and Political Foundations of Educational Policy deal directly with the internal and external mechanisms that enact regulations. Financial Affairs in Higher Education deals with the intersection of education finance and policy. National Trends in Assessment, Data Analysis, and Accountability helps students perfect their analytical capabilities.
If you’re ready to embark on the path to a career as an education policy analyst, visit the online Ed.D. program page to learn more about this degree.
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Diversity in Higher Education: Statistics, Gaps, and Resources
Ph.D. vs Ed.D.: Key Differences
American Institutes for Research, Increasing the Effectiveness of Education
American Youth Policy Forum, Mission & Vision
Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management, About APPAM
Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, “The Biden Administration’s Proposed Higher Education Policies”
National Conference of State Legislatures, Higher Education Legislation in 2021
National Education Policy Center, About the National Education Policy Center
Payscale, Average Education Policy Analyst Salary