Paula Clasing

“I found that I met CEW+ just when I needed it the most.”

Paula Clasing is a CEW+ 2022-2023 Graduate Scholarship Recipient and recent PhD graduate in higher education in the School of Education at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. Paula is an international student from Chile who is passionate about helping students from diverse backgrounds access and succeed in higher education. During her PhD program, she was a Fulbright Scholar and a Rackham Predoctoral Fellow. Her dissertation research examined a free tuition policy in Chile and its effects on low-income students and higher education.

Paula is naturally curious; she likes to do research, become a subject matter expert on topics, and use her tools to improve her knowledge. Paired with her desire to improve education, especially higher education for people that come from disadvantaged backgrounds, she was motivated to complete her PhD in higher education and continue her research to help students in their trajectory through postsecondary education. Her paper dissertation was in three parts and comprehensively studied the free tuition policy implemented in Chile in 2016.

First, she studied the policy formation using newspaper articles to see the discussion at the time. She also interviewed different policymakers and higher education leaders – she was interested in mapping the policy development to understand why the policy looks how it looks. This policy started in 2011 when there were large student protests in Chile demanding free, public, higher education of quality for all, and the final policy that was implemented was only for low-income students at some higher education institutions. The second paper was about the effects of the policy on student outcomes, especially on access and persistence. In this paper, she used large datasets from the Ministry of Education in Chile to see whether the policy has any effect on applying for financial aid, registering for standardized tests for entering the university, enrollment, and proceeding to the second year of their higher education program. The third paper focused on the effect of the policy on higher education institutions. As the policy restricts institutional behavior by regulating tuition and enrollment capacity, this paper studied whether the institutions in the policy have the appropriate incentives to achieve the policy goals.

When starting to look for a dissertation topic, Paula was interested in looking at something at a national level, but “not only pertinent to my own country, to Chile, but to other countries. Free tuition has been a policy that has been discussed or a topic that has been discussed, in other countries worldwide. Not only in Chile, but in the US, there have been discussions in the last presidential campaign, that proposed free tuition. In Mexico, South Africa, and New Zealand they are also having this conversation. In Chile, there is a lot of good data, and is ‘considered a neoliberal laboratory’ which means a policy implemented will be an important topic discussed in other countries as well.”

Paula also talked about the importance of having role models in her life, especially being a mother of two girls herself. When Paula was completing her master’s degree in 2011 after working in a higher education institution and came back to Chile, she knew she wanted to do a PhD but had concerns as she had also other family goals. Paula shared, “A PhD was no longer available for me because I thought it was incompatible with all of these other life goals.” But when she started to work at a university and met a woman that was coming back from her PhD with kids, she thought maybe she could do that as well. Those people were very important in showing her that she could be both a student/researcher and a mother. “If they can do it, I can do it, and [I] pursued a PhD.” As for being a role model for others, Paula shares, “I learned from my experience that it is important to tell your stories to others. That is one of the greatest ways you can influence others…see if some of that helps make their own journey. I’m not thinking of myself as a mentor to others, but to tell my story.” Paula also notes that this can create some work-life balance difficulties, something she is still trying to master. “I don’t know if I have an answer, I’m still trying to have balance.”

Paula shared “I found that I met CEW+ just when I needed it the most.” At the start of the pandemic, she was part of an academic mentoring program. As an international student, woman, and mother, she was looking for a place for her in the university and found it in CEW+. There, she found a mentor in the academic program who especially helped during the pandemic as she helped her process everything that happened while taking care of her daughter and working on her dissertation. That experience helped her organize her studies and life and plan ahead. She found that the work CEW+ was doing for student parents was very meaningful to her as there was a place she could go with her children and meet student parents and have a community. Paula received a CEW+ scholarship during her last term at the university while she was finishing her dissertation. She was also having her second daughter at this time, “which changed a bit of my plans.” She hoped to have the dissertation done sooner, but she was managing her pregnancy at the same time, which prolonged the process. During this time, she had run out of funding for her fellowship and she needed more time so she could finish her dissertation, have her baby, and process and plan out her return after defending her dissertation. “The most important [aspect] for me regarding CEW+ is the sense of community and that I could approach the Center with any kind of doubt, or problem, or issue and they would try to help me. It was important in my student development as it allows me to handle these multiple roles: being a student parent, having a family, being an international student…I really appreciate the help of CEW+ in all of that.”