About the Center on Education & Skills

Work is tightly interwoven with every aspect of American life. As a society, our economy, politics, and culture revolve around the work we do and the products and services that we produce with it. As individuals, work provides us with the money we need to support ourselves and our families, and forms a crucial part of our identity.

Education has long been considered the ticket to the "American dream": study hard, work hard, and you'll get ahead. As work changes and education struggles to keep pace, that foundational belief is in danger of breaking down. Without adaptation, Americans will struggle to attain financial success and personal satisfaction within the new economic structures they face. 

The Center on Education & Skills at New America (CESNA) was founded in 2016 to follow developments in the world of work and to assess the effectiveness of education—both academic and work-based—in preparing all Americans for jobs and in keeping their skills relevant as technology, workplaces, and regional economies evolve.

Our Work

Housed within our broader Education Policy program, the Center reaches across the traditional silos of higher education and workforce development to identify strategies for strengthening linkages between learning and work, and between schools and local economies. Especially focused on apprenticeship, CTE, and other types of work-based learning, and situated at the increasingly fluid intersection of education and employment, CESNA’s work spans different ages, population groups, geographical areas, and industries:

  1. We study alternative models for cultivating college- and career-readiness for secondary students as well as adults adults.

  2. We develop strategies for linking the historically segregated tracks of academic and technical education, and for better connecting educational credentials to facilitate lifelong learning.

  3. We explore the implications of specific technologies and economic trends for the American workforce, and the particular issues affecting industries such as information technology and healthcare.

  4. Across these categories, we advocate for learning models that support equitable outcomes for groups such as women and racial minorities who have been historically marginalized in America’s secondary and postsecondary education systems.

You can follow our work in our blogs on EdCentral and in our in-depth policy papers. For updates on our work, and to keep posted on our events featuring researchers, practitioners, and thought leaders from the world of workforce development, sign up for our email newsletter by entering your contact information at the link below and selecting “CESNA Update”.

Core staff:


Mary Alice McCarthy


Mary Alice McCarthy is the founding director of CESNA. Her work examines the intersection between higher education, workforce development, and job training policies. McCarthy’s writing has been featured in a diverse set of media outlets including the Washington MonthlyThe Atlantic, and the Journal on Community College Research and Practice. In addition to her research, she participates in a wide variety of public engagement, technical assistance, and coalition-building efforts aimed at improving postsecondary education policy and practice. She has a PhD in political science from the University of North Carolina and an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. 


Brent Parton

Deputy Director

Brent Parton is the deputy director of CESNA. His work focuses on federal and state policies to scale those pathways, and ensure their quality and relevance within an evolving economy. Prior to joining New America, Parton served as a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Labor, where he advised leadership on a range of skills issues; before that, he led development of a new portfolio focused on state strategies for expanding work-based learning at the National Governors Association, and in the education department of the World Bank. Parton has a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in international education policy, both from Vanderbilt University, where he is also an adjunct professor.


Ivy Love

Policy Analyst

Ivy Love is a policy analyst with CESNA, having joined New America from the Association of Community College Trustees, where she co-authored reports on student loan outcomes, state and federal financial aid and student success, and federal-state partnerships in workforce development, as well as managed the association’s policy blog. Love got her start in education policy as an intern with the higher education team at New America. She holds an MA from the University of Sheffield (UK), a BA from Missouri Southern State University, and is a PhD candidate in higher education administration at Saint Louis University.  

Michael Prebil

Michael Prebil

Program Associate

Michael Prebil is a program associate with CESNA, having joined the Education Policy program in September 2016 as an intern with CESNA and the Higher Education team. Prebil's work explores learning and credentialing models that address employers' needs for capable and flexible lifelong learners while preserving equity and quality-of-life for workers in a globalized and rapidly automating economy. He has studied history, language, and international relations at McGill University in Montreal and the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies.

Contributing staff:

Elena SIlva

Elena Silva

Director, PreK-12

Elena Silva is director of PreK-12 for the Education Policy program at New America. Her research and writing focuses on a wide range of educational issues, including teacher’s work, school design and improvement, and the assessment and measurement of student learning. Prior to joining New America, she worked at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, at Education Sector, and as the director of research for the educational foundation and library of the American Association of University Women. She previously managed youth leadership programs for the D.C.-based ASPIRA Association, one of the largest national Hispanic-serving organizations, where she developed and directed one of the first AmeriCorps service programs in the nation. Silva holds a master's and a PhD in education from the University of California-Berkeley.


Iris Palmer

Senior Policy Analyst, Higher Education

Iris Palmer is a senior policy analyst with the Education Policy program at New America. She is a member of the higher education team, where she provides research and analysis on state policies related to higher education including performance based funding, state student financial aid, and state data systems. Palmer previously worked at the National Governors Association on postsecondary issues, at HCM Strategists on the Lumina Foundation’s initiative to develop innovative higher education models, and at the U.S. Department of Education in all of the offices related to higher education: the Office of Vocational and Adult Education, the Office of Postsecondary Education, the Policy Office and the Office of the Undersecretary. Palmer received her undergraduate degree in political science from Goucher College and her masters of public policy from George Mason.


Abigail Swisher

Program Associate, PreK-12

Abigail Swisher is a program associate with the Education Policy program at New America. She is a member of the PreK-12 team, where her work focuses on college and career-ready policies, with specific attention to both assessment and the transition from high school to higher education. Prior to joining New America, Swisher taught elementary school science and engineering in Granville County, North Carolina.