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

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.

Diane Cheng, Associate Research Director

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, Vice President

Debbie Frankle PhotoDebbie is an expert on student aid policy and practice and has testified before state and federal policymakers on topics ranging from access to need-based grants to debt relief for defrauded students. Debbie leads TICAS’ national work on community college issues and its California policy program. Her work focuses on financial aid’s relationship to access and success and practical ways to lower affordability obstacles. Reporters and policymakers frequently cite her research and policy analyses, and she has built statewide coalitions to support strong financial aid programs and better student outcomes. Before joining TICAS, Debbie was an analyst at the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and served in various roles in 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.

Neha Dalal, Program and Operations Coordinator

Neha Dalal Photo Based in TICAS’ DC office, Neha covers a range of education issues centered around college success while also working in operations, including development and strategy. Previously, Neha helped launch a new nonprofit organization focused on increasing college success and upward mobility. Before that, she was a staff economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisers, providing policy advice on early, K-12, and higher education as well as other topics. Neha’s experience also includes senior roles in multiple education related nonprofits, volunteer teaching and mentoring domestically and internationally, conducting education related economics research at Harvard, and organizing and representing youth in a variety of capacities. She currently sits on the Youth Working Group of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO. Neha holds an AB in applied mathematics and education and an SM in applied mathematics and economics from Harvard.

Veronica Gonzalez, Research Associate

Debbie Frankle PhotoVeronica Gonzalez conducts research and data analysis on issues relating to financial aid, college affordability, and student success. Prior to joining TICAS, Veronica worked as a graduate research assistant at Oregon State University, managing quantitative and qualitative projects focusing on student success in secondary and postsecondary education. Veronica holds a BS in Social Psychology from Saint Mary’s College of California and is completing her MPP with Oregon State University.

James Kvaal, President

James KvallJames Kvaal is the president of the Institute for College Access & Success. He previously served as the deputy domestic policy adviser at the White House, where he worked on a range of issues related to economic opportunity. His work on higher education included initiatives to make college tuition more affordable, protect students from unaffordable loans, and help many more students graduate from college. Over the course of his career, he has also served in senior roles at the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. House of Representatives,  and the U.S.  Senate. He has taught at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy and attended Stanford University and Harvard Law School.

Brett Robertson, Policy Analyst

shannonBased in TICAS’ DC office, Brett works on policy relating to protecting students and taxpayers from fraud and abuse in higher education. Before joining TICAS, Brett worked in the field of education for fifteen years as a teacher, administrator, organizer, researcher, writer, and advocate. He holds a PhD in Education from Washington University in St. Louis, an MSW in community organizing from Hunter College (CUNY), and a BA in history from Miami University (OH). His dissertation examined how state charter school policy and the growth of for-profit charter schools impacts racial and socioeconomic segregation at the local, state, and national level.

Shannon Serrato, Communications Manager

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, Associate California Program Director

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, Policy and Research Director

Jessica Thompson leads TICAS’ work on 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 six 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.