Denisa Gándara

Assistant Professor, Southern Methodist University

About Denisa

Ford Foundation Fellow    ·    Southern Methodist University

Denisa Gándara is an Assistant Professor of Education Policy and Leadership at Southern Methodist University. She is the recipient of the Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship and the Zell and Shirley Miller Graduate Fellowship. Her research agenda broadly explores state-level higher education policy formulation processes and impacts, especially on populations traditionally underserved in higher education. Her current work on the development of higher education finance policies focuses on: (1) social networks within policy development processes and what they suggest about (under)representation in higher education policymaking and (2) the types, quality, sources, and flows of information acquired and used in policy formulation.

Education & Experience


Ph.D., Higher Education

2011 - 2016

University of Georgia

Athens, Georgia

B.A., Philosophy, Psychology Minor

2007 - 2011

The University of Texas at Austin

Austin, Texas

B.A., Spanish, Linguistics Minor

2007 - 2011

The University of Texas at Austin

Austin, Texas


Assistant Professor

2016 - present

Department of Education Policy & Leadership, Southern Methodist University

Dallas, Texas

Responsibilities: conduct research on higher education policy; develop and teach courses in the Master's and Executive Ed.D. higher education programs; present research at national and regional conferences; and serve on departmental and school-wide committees

Project Manager and Lead Researcher

2011 - 2015

WT Grant Foundation

Athens, Georgia

“The Distinct Role of Intermediary Organizations in Fostering Research Utilization for State College Completion Policy” project funded by WT Grant Foundation ($350,000)

Responsibilities: collaboratively develop grant proposal with Erik Ness, Principal Investigator (PI), and James Hearn, Co-PI; design interview and observation protocols for five states; iteratively produce a coding scheme for qualitative data analysis; manage a six-member team in the data collection, analysis, and presentation of findings from Phase 1 of the project

Graduate Student Research Assistant

2011 - 2015

University of Georgia

Athens, Georgia

“Ideological think tanks in higher education”; with Erik Ness. Responsibilities: Build database for content analysis using archived data from 99 ideological think tanks’ websites; conduct qualitative analyses; write papers; guest lecture in Policy Studies course

“Private Financial Returns on Graduate Education” with Robert Toutkoushian. Responsibilities: Construct dataset using data on financing of graduate education and labor market returns; conduct quantitative analyses; write papers; guest lecture in Economics of Higher Education course

Higher Education Consultant

2013 - 2014

Ford Foundation / Tennessee Higher Education Commission

Various Locations

“Campus Responses to Tennessee’s Complete College Tennessee Act and Outcomes-Based Funding Formula” project supported by the Ford Foundation and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission

Responsibilities: collaboratively design ethnographic case study interview and observation protocols; conduct over 40 interviews with officials from two campuses and the University of Tennessee System; conduct observations; analyze qualitative data for two campuses; collaboratively write papers, including final report to THEC and the Ford Foundation

Policy Intern

2010 - 2011

Texas Senate Higher Education Committee

Austin, Texas

Responsibilities: write policy memos; research and prepare materials, including bill analyses and “talking points”, for higher education bills for use by Senate Higher Education Committee Chair, Judith Zaffirini, Ph.D.

U.S. Congressional Intern


United States House of Representatives, Office of Congressman Luis Gutierrez

Washington, D.C.

As part of the Council for Opportunity in Education, Global Leaders’ Semester program, I was selected as the sole 2010 Fall Intern from a national pool of TRIO applicants.

Responsibilities: attend regular hearings and briefings and create memos for the congressional office, draft official constituent correspondence, participate in seminar workshops on theory and practice of government and politics

Awards & Honors

Publications & Working Papers


Gándara, D. “College students, state policies, and undocumented status.” In Contemporary Issues for People of Color: Surviving and Thriving in the U.S. Today (5 of 5 volumes - Immigration/Migration), Eds. Alvaro Huerta, Norma Iglesias-Prieto and Donathan L. Brown. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO / Greenwood.

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Ness, E.C., Deupree, M.M., & Gándara, D. Campus Responses to Outcomes-Based Funding in Tennessee: Robust, Aligned and Contested. Nashville: Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

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Ness, E.C. & Gándara, D. (2014). Ideological Think Tanks in the States: An Inventory of their Prevalence, Networks, and Higher Education Policy Activity. Educational Policy, 28(2), 258- 280.

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Gándara, D., Ness, E.C., & Rippner, J. Exploring the “How” in Policy Diffusion: A National Intermediary Organization’s Role in Facilitating the Spread of College Completion Policies in the States. The Journal of Higher Education.

In Press

Jones, T., Jones, S., Owens, L., Assalone, A., Elliott, K., & Gándara, D. Outcomes Based Funding and Race in Higher Education. Basingstoke, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan.

Under Review

Gándara, D. & Hearn, J.C. College Completion, the Texas Way: An Examination of the Development of College Completion Policy in a Distinctive Political Culture.

Under Review

Gándara, D. & Toutkoushian, R. Updated Estimates of the Average Financial Return on Master’s Degree Programs in the United States.

Under Review

Gándara, D. Does Evidence Matter? An Analysis of Evidence Use in Performance-Funding Policy Designs in Two States.

Under Review

Li, A., Gándara, D., & Assalone, A. Do Performance-Funding Policies Disadvantage Two-Year Minority-Serving Institutions?


Gándara, D. & Ness, E.C. Ideological Think Tank Activity and the Politics of College Affordability in the States. In preparation for journal submission.


Gándara, D. The Devil is in the Details: How Higher Education Performance Funding Policies Are Designed. In preparation for journal submission.

Working Paper

Gándara, D. Non-pecuniary Capital Characteristics and Perceptions of Family Ability to Pay for College. In preparation for journal submission.

Working Paper

Ness, E.C., Gándara, D., & Deupree, M.M. Inputs Matter: An Exploration of Outcomes Funding Impacts on Two Community Colleges.

Working Paper

Gándara, D. Who Calls the Shots in Performance Funding Policy Design? A Social Network Analysis Approach to Representation in State-level Higher Education Policymaking.



  • Logistic Regression
  • Ethnographic Case Study
  • Content Analysis
  • Dyad-year Event History Analysis
  • State-year Event History Analysis
  • Factor Analysis
  • Multilevel Modeling
  • Social Network Analysis
  • Instrumental Variables
  • Propensity Score Matching


  • Dedoose
  • SPSS
  • Stata
  • ATLAS.ti
  • Gephi
  • HLM
  • Mplus
  • R
  • KliqueFinder
  • NVivo
  • SAS


  • English
  • Spanish
  • French