About Us

An independent, nonprofit organization, the Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) works to make higher education more available and affordable for people of all backgrounds. By conducting and supporting nonpartisan research, analysis, and advocacy, TICAS aims to improve the processes and public policies that can pave the way to successful educational outcomes for students and for society.

One of TICAS’ initiatives is the Project on Student Debt, which works to increase public understanding of this student debt and the implications for our families, economy, and society. 

TICAS' Accomplishments


Staff bios

Pauline Abernathy, Vice President 

Pauline Abernathy oversees national policy and advocacy strategy for TICAS. She previously served as Senior Advisor to Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, and as Deputy Director of Health and Human Services Policy at The Pew Charitable Trusts, where she initiated, designed and managed national initiatives related to student debt, retirement savings, child welfare, and public health policies. Prior to joining Pew, she served in senior positions at the U.S. Department of Education and the White House National Economic Council and Domestic Policy Council. She also worked in the U.S. Senate and at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Pauline has a BA from Yale University and a MPP from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Lindsay Ahlman, Senior Policy Analyst

Based in TICAS’ DC office, Lindsay works on a variety of issues aimed at increasing higher education access, affordability and success, including improving postsecondary data, enhancing loan counseling, and streamlining the application process for federal financial aid. Prior to joining TICAS, Lindsay worked as an analyst at the University of Maryland, focused on student financial aid policy, institutional data structures, and strategic budget planning. As a consultant for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, she was involved in a wide range of student access and affordability projects. Before her immersion into the higher education landscape, she worked on data-driven criminal justice reform initiatives in Philadelphia, as well as science-based shark conservation advocacy in DC. Lindsay received BA and MS degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, and an MPP from the University of Maryland.

Lauren Asher, President

laurenA nationally recognized expert on student loans and financial aid, Lauren Asher co-founded TICAS' Project on Student Debt and was the organization's vice president before becoming its president in 2009. She previously led Asher Policy Consulting, advising foundations and national, state, and local nonprofits working to improve the lives of children, youth, and working families. She also served in senior positions at the Kaiser Family Foundation, National Partnership for Women & Families, and U.S. Department of Labor, and started her nonprofit career at Children Now. Lauren holds an MPA from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and a BA from Brown University.

Diane Cheng, Senior Research Analyst

dianeDiane Cheng applies her expertise in higher education data and analysis to explore a range of federal, state, and college-level policy issues from the student perspective. She is a national expert on net price calculators and also focuses her analyses on financial aid communications, need-based grant aid, and student borrowing. Diane graduated from Stanford University with an MA and BA in Sociology, specializing in social stratification and inequality. At Stanford, Diane worked as a research assistant and head peer advisor in the Sociology Department. Diane also worked as a Public Interest Law Fellow at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, conducting research on the educational experience of African-American school-aged youth in San Francisco.

Debbie Cochrane, Research Director

Debbie Frankle Photo Debbie Cochrane oversees TICAS' research and leads its California program. She is a leading expert on financial aid issues in California, and the primary author of several reports that shed light on the role of financial aid and affordability on college access and success at community colleges. Before joining TICAS' staff, Debbie worked as a policy analyst at the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, focusing primarily on community college affordability and finance policy issues, and served in research, direct service, and management roles within a variety of other nonprofit settings. She holds an MSW with a focus on social policy from San Francisco State University and a BA from the University of Michigan.

Molly Giesen-Fields, Grants and Operations Manager

Molly Giesen-Fields manages internal systems, resources, and grant processes for TICAS. Previously, she oversaw the consulting and technical assistance portfolio for Seedco, a national nonprofit organization, determining solutions for a range of public, private and nonprofit clients’ poverty alleviation efforts in more than 20 cities in the US and internationally. Molly holds an MS in Non-Profit Management from the Milano Graduate School of Urban Policy and Management at The New School and a BA in History and Women’s Studies from UC Santa Cruz.

Matthew La Rocque, Research Analyst

Matthew La Rocque conducts research and advocacy for TICAS' California program. He first explored his passion for higher education policy after his college graduation, when he co-founded a non-profit college preparatory program for high-achieving, low-income high school students in his hometown of Los Angeles. Matthew later worked as a paralegal at the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. He also served as a field and new media staffer with Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, and then in the Obama administration at the U.S. Department of Education. Matthew holds a BA in Political Science from UC Berkeley and an MPP from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Matthew Reed, Program Director

Matt Reed directs our work on higher education data, institutional policy, and the clarity and accessibility of financial aid information, and is the author of the Project on Student Debt's annual state-by-state student debt report. He is an expert on higher education data and policy, and serves on several technical review panels for federal data sources. Prior to joining TICAS, Matt spent six years as a high school math teacher and technology coordinator in the Chicago Public Schools, and has worked on education projects in South Africa and Angola. Matt's policy analysis experience includes projects in education reform, housing, and labor policy. He holds an M.P.P. from the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley, an M.S.Ed. in Instructional Technology from Northern Illinois University, and a BA from Swarthmore College.

Shannon Serrato, Communications Coordinator

shannonShannon Serrato manages TICAS' external communications, media relations, web sites, and publication producation. She is a graduate of the University of California, San Diego with a BA in Communication and a minor in Ethnic Studies. As an undergraduate, Shannon worked for educational equality for students from underrepresented backgrounds as a peer mentor with UCSD's Office of Academic Support & Instructional Services. Before coming to TICAS, she worked for Rescue Social Change Group, a San Diego social marketing firm, and in various positions within San Diego area Upward Bound programs.

Kelly Solari, Chief Financial Officer/Chief Operating Officer

kelly Kelly Solari oversees TICAS' finances and operations. Before joining TICAS in 2007, she spent ten years working in financial and human resources management in the for-profit sector. Her pre-financial career included management in private post-secondary education and volunteer teaching in local and international settings. She earned her BA from UC Berkeley in English and Practice of Art.

Laura Szabo-Kubitz, California Project Manager

LauraLaura Szabo-Kubitz works on our Keeping California's Promise program on issues involving foster youth, community colleges, and student engagement and activism. In the past, Laura has worked as an educator and in the non-profit sector, most recently as the recruiting coordinator for American Student Assistance (ASA), a student loan guarantor with a mission to make student loans more manageable and affordable. Before ASA, Laura worked at Aim High, a nonprofit that creates empowering environments for the educational and personal growth of middle school students. She also has experience with nonprofit direct service and finance, having worked as the Parent Voices Project Associate and Assistant to the CFO at the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network. She received her MA in Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and her BA in English from Oberlin College.

Andrea Teodorini, Office Manager

Andrea Teodorini keeps TICAS' office running smoothly as receptionist, bookkeeper, scheduler, and event-planner. She has an extensive and diverse professional background. Andrea has worked in the banking and mortgage fields in customer service, accounting, and administrative capacities. She holds a BA in Mathematics from Rowan University in New Jersey (formerly Glassboro State College).

Jessica Thompson, Senior Policy Analyst 

Jessica Thompson covers a range of issues from TICAS' DC office, including Pell Grants and other grant aid, education tax benefits, higher education data issues, simplifying the federal financial aid application process, and improving tools to help students make wise choices about costs and debt.  Before joining TICAS, Jessica spent five years as a higher education policy analyst for the University of Washington, focused on national, state and institutional funding and policy issues. Additionally, she has worked on policy and administrative problems related to energy assistance, homelessness, and mental health. She received her MPA with a focus in Public Policy from the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU, and her BA in Psychology from the University of Southern California.

Jennifer Wang, DC Office Director

Jennifer Wang oversees the DC office, carrying out the policy and advocacy strategy for TICAS. She was previously the Policy Director for Young Invincibles, where she led a team working on improving economic policies for young adults, including policies that increase access and success in higher education and address student debt. She joined Young Invincibles as their policy and advocacy manager, building their government affairs program from the ground up. Previously, she gained an expertise on women’s health access under the Affordable Care Act while at NARAL Pro-Choice America. Jennifer holds a JD from the University of Iowa College of Law and BAs in Gender Studies and Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles.