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Schanzenbach Named Director of Institute for Policy Research

Prominent economist will take over on September 1

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Some of her most influential work to date has investigated the effects of food stamps, a federal program launched in 1964 and now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

Economist Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach will replace David Figlio as IPR director on September 1.

Northwestern University has appointed prominent economist Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach director of its Institute for Policy Research (IPR), effective September 1.

An IPR fellow whose research examines issues related to education and child poverty, Schanzenbach joined Northwestern in 2010 and is a faculty member in the Department of Human Development and Social Policy with a courtesy appointment in the Department of Economics. From 2015–2017, she was director of The Hamilton Project, a research group within the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution, where she was a senior fellow in economic studies. Upon assuming the IPR directorship, Schanzenbach also will become the Margaret Walker Alexander Professor at the University.

“Diane brings extraordinary academic credentials, leadership, and experience to her new role as IPR director,” said Jay Walsh, Northwestern’s vice president for research. “I am delighted that she will be advancing one of the premier university policy institutes in the United States. IPR’s high-impact scholarship explores so many crucial social issues, including those at the intersection of disciplines. This is research with important implications for America’s economic and social well-being, and I look forward to working with Diane to build on IPR’s successes.”

As IPR’s seventh director, Schanzenbach will succeed David Figlio, who will become dean of the University’s School of Education and Social Policy. He has served as IPR’s director since September 2012 and is Orrington Lunt Professor of Education and Social Policy and of Economics. During his tenure, Figlio oversaw many important changes, including structural enhancements and new collaborations with other Northwestern schools and with external partners. He will continue to contribute as an IPR fellow.

Founded in 1968, IPR is one of the country’s preeminent academic social policy research institutes. Its faculty conduct research at the forefront of a wide range of pressing social questions, including many related to poverty, race, inequality, education reform, and social disparities and health, among others. Schanzenbach is an internationally recognized economist, known for her work on policies regarding poverty reduction, early education interventions, and school accountability measures and their effects on child and adult health and well-being.

“It is a tremendous honor to have been appointed as the next director of IPR,” Schanzenbach said. “I am excited to partner with IPR's community of top-notch policy scholars, talented students, and dedicated staff. I am very much looking forward to collaborating with them on advancing and disseminating Northwestern’s brand of interdisciplinary policy research and analysis on some of the most pressing social questions of our time.”

While at The Hamilton Project, Schanzenbach has coauthored more than 20 white papers, policy proposals, and reports on major national issues, including climate change, school accountability, and the decline in labor force participation. She also spearheaded and organized a dozen major events on topics such as criminal justice reform and healthcare.

“Diane has done an outstanding job as director of The Hamilton Project, developing and promulgating policies to advance inclusive economic growth,” said Robert Rubin, co-founder of The Hamilton Project and former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury. “The Institute for Policy Research shares The Hamilton Project's values of promoting serious, evidence-based solutions to our nation's challenges. I am confident that she will excel in her new role at Northwestern.”

Schanzenbach has also testified before Congress on multiple occasions, the last of which took place on June 28 when she discussed education research and student privacy before a subcommittee on K–12 education of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. 

“Diane has the rare combination of exceptional research talent and the remarkable ability to explain research findings to many audiences, from policymakers to members of the media to people in business and industry,” Figlio said.

Some of her most influential work to date has investigated the effects of food stamps, a federal program launched in 1964 and now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. In a series of articles, the most recent of which was published in the American Economic Review in 2016, she and her coauthors evaluated food stamps’ influence on various factors, including participation in the labor force, how recipients used their food vouchers, and the program’s significant impact on improving children’s long-run health and educational outcomes.

Another notable research stream for Schanzenbach evaluates the impact of policies that influence resources and incentives in schools. In a forthcoming article in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics with University of California, Berkeley economists Julien Lafortune and Jesse Rothstein, she examines how more progressive school funding affects students’ test scores.

Schanzenbach joined the Northwestern faculty and IPR in 2010. She is a member of IPR’s Executive Committee and chair of its research program on Child, Adolescent, and Family Studies. She is also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, a research associate at the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

She received a BA from Wellesley College and PhD from Princeton University, both in economics. From 2002–04, she was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholar in health policy research at the University of California, Berkeley.

Her research has received funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Education, Spencer Foundation, and Smith-Richardson Foundation. Her studies have been published in some of the nation’s top journals, such as the Quarterly Journal of Economics, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, the Review of Economics and Statistics, and the Journal of Human Resources, among others.

“Now, more than ever, we need to produce evidence of unimpeachable quality and to convey this evidence successfully to disparate groups,” Figlio said. “The combination of IPR and Diane Schanzenbach will make a big difference in our country and the world.”

For more information about Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, and to learn more about IPR, visit:

Originally published by the Northwestern Office of Research.

Published: July 27, 2017.