Northwestern University dean named provost at Rochester : NewsCenter

January 5, 2022

An internationally regarded scholar and academic leader, David Figlio has been named the provost at Rochester. (Photo courtesy of Northwestern University)

David Figlio—whose research and academic leadership cuts across economics, education, and social policy—will become Rochester’s chief academic officer in July.

An internationally recognized economist and educational leader whose interdisciplinary research spans educational, public, and social policy, including the link between health and education, has been named the new provost at the University of Rochester.

David Figlio, currently the Orrington Lunt Professor of Education and Social Policy and dean of Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) and a fellow of the National Academy of Education, will begin his Rochester role on July 1, 2022.

As provost, Figlio will serve as Rochester’s chief academic officer, overseeing four of the University’s main academic units of Arts, Sciences & Engineering; Eastman School of Music; Simon Business School; and Warner School of Education. He will also lead a number of University-wide operations, including academic affairs, graduate education and postdoctoral affairs, the library system, and information technology.

He succeeds Sarah Peyre, who has served as interim provost since July 2021 and will return to her role as dean of the Warner School of Education.

President Sarah Mangelsdorf said, “David is widely recognized as a leader of a nationally ranked school, one that has earned accolades throughout higher education for teaching and research excellence, focus on community engagement, and innovative approaches to addressing societal issues.

“He is also a remarkable scholar whose innovative work on the economics of K-12 and higher education has yielded new areas of research. As dean of Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy, he has demonstrated how universities and university communities can positively impact the world around them.”

Mangelsdorf cited SESP’s international reputation for working across disciplines to bring together the innovative expertise of communities both inside and outside academia to address societal concerns. “As a scholar and a leader, he is already steeped in our ethos of Meliora, making the world ever better,” she said.

Figlio earned his bachelor of science degree in business administration from George Washington University, majoring in business economics and public policy. He then received a master’s degree and PhD in economics from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Prior to joining the Northwestern faculty, he held faculty appointments at the University of Oregon and the University of Florida, where he was the Knight-Ridder Professor of Economics. He is also a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); a research fellow of the IZA Institute of Labor Economics in Bonn, Germany; a member of the CESifo Network on the Economics of Education in Munich, Germany; and an affiliate of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Figlio, who directed Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research from 2012 to 2017, was named dean of SESP in 2017. That same year, he was elected to the National Academy of Education.

At Rochester, Figlio will hold a primary appointment in the Department of Economics and a joint professorship at the Warner School, subject to the recommendation of the faculty after a tenure review process.

“I’m tremendously excited to be joining the University of Rochester at this point in its already storied history,” Figlio said. “I look forward to working with and learning from my new colleagues to accelerate the momentum and further enhance the University’s reputation for exceptional and meaningful scholarship and creative work.

“The University’s commitment to academic excellence is evident and the work of its distinguished faculty and exceptional staff has advanced knowledge and improved the lives of countless people,” Figlio added. “I’m grateful to President Mangelsdorf and the Provost Search Committee for their confidence in me, and I am delighted to be able to work closely together with Sarah again.”

SESP is internationally renowned for tackling pressing educational and societal issues, working collaboratively within communities, transforming organizations, and using new technologies to foster learning. The school promotes human development and learning in all settings—formal and informal—and at every stage of life.

With a long history as an incubator of new fields and curricular innovator, the school recently established the world’s first PhD program in computer science and the learning sciences—jointly with Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering. The school has consistently ranked among the nation’s top 10 schools of education since 2002, according to U.S. News & World Report.

As dean, Figlio has been praised for developing and executing a strong intellectual vision. He recruited and supported an extraordinary faculty that reflects the diversity of SESP’s students and the surrounding communities.

Faculty and staff call him “an affirming, caring, responsive, authentic, and deeply humane leader” who has been particularly effective during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a leader, colleagues say he shows clear empathy for people and groups within the school and is known for his optimistic outlook that helps foster “an intellectually vibrant and welcoming SESP community.”

Figlio’s research is known for both its scholarly and social impact. A recent working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Diversity in Schools: Immigrants and the Educational Performance of U.S. Born Students,” was recognized by the George Lucas Educational Foundation’s website Edutopia, as one of the 10 most significant education studies of 2021.

Numerous funders support his research and scholarly work, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Institute for Education Sciences, and the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development. He actively collaborates with local and state health and education agencies.

Figlio recently finished a term as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Human Resources, was the inaugural editor of Education Finance and Policy, and has served as associate editor of several other leading journals. He has held numerous service positions in the profession, including president of the Association for Education Finance and Policy.

An award-winning teacher throughout his career, Figlio developed and taught new undergraduate courses as dean, including Economics of the University. He is currently teaching his newest course, Demystifying Quantitative Data, during Northwestern’s winter quarter. “Teaching is one of my passions,” Figlio said. “I look forward to teaching and learning from Rochester students soon.”

At Rochester, Figlio will reside in the historic Patrick Barry House, the University’s official provost’s residence, with his wife, Anne Ford, and their two cats. Ford is an award-winning journalist and podcast producer, currently working with Snap Judgment Presents: Spooked. She has contributed to NPR’s Weekend Edition, StoryCorps, and many other outlets.

They are looking forward to exploring the Rochester region’s diverse arts and cultural offerings, and beautiful and varied natural surroundings—which they plan to show off to their three adult daughters and four-year-old granddaughter when they visit.

An avid cook (“and eater!” adds Figlio), he and Ford are also enthusiastic about taking in the local food scene. Most importantly, they are eager to meet members of the Rochester community around campus and around town. “We can’t wait to be Rochesterians,” Figlio said. “And to be part of an exceptional University in a great community.”

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Northwestern University dean named provost at Rochester