Royel M. Johnson, PhD

  • Associate Professor & Director

Research Concentration

  • Higher Education


PhD, Higher Education and Student Affairs, The Ohio State University


  • Racial Equity • Education Access • Student Success • Education Policy • Carcerality in Education • Foster Care • Juvenile Justice
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Royel Johnson is a tenured professor in the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, with a courtesy appointment in the Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. He is Co-Chair of the PhD in education program and is Director of the National Assessment of Collegiate Campus Climates in the USC Race and Equity Center, which is the nation’s leading tool for assessing campus racial climates. He is also Co-Director of the Research Institute for Scholars of Equity (RISE) based at North Carolina Central University.

Dr. Johnson’s interdisciplinary research focuses on educational access, racial equity, and student belonging and success, particularly for Black and intersectionally marginalized groups impacted by the criminal punishment, child welfare, and inequitable educational systems. He has more than 50 publications including peer-reviewed articles in influential journals like the Journal of Higher Education, Peabody Journal of Education, Teachers College Record, and Journal of College Student Development. He has also co-edited three books, including Racial Equity on College Campuses: Connecting Research and Practice (SUNY Press), Enacting Student Success: Critical and Alternative Perspectives for Practice (Jossey-Bass) and Creating New Possibilities for the Future of HBCUs with Research (Information Age). He has been awarded more than $5.3 million in grants and contracts from organizations such as the Spencer Foundation, Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Department of Health and Human Services, and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Dr. Johnson is committed to translational research that informs policy and practice. He has delivered over 125 invited talks and regularly consults with campuses and national organizations. In 2020, Pennsylvania legislators sought his consultation on HB2952, which aims to ban the use of criminal record screening on college applications. With Francesca Lopez (Penn State) he developed a rapid response network designed to increase the use of research by critically conscious education scholars in policy making. And through a $1.53 grant from IES, he and colleagues from North Carolina Central University developed RISE—a training program that provides undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds experiences in conducting mixed-methods education research and prepares them for doctoral study.

Dr. Johnson is actively engaged in national/professional service. For the Association for the Study of Higher Education, he is producer and co-host of the Presidential Podcast Series and has served on the Dissertation of the Year Committee. Within the American Education Research Association, he was a presidential appointee to the Social Justice Action Committee, member of the Brown Lecture selection committee, and program section leader for Division J. Moreover, he has been on is currently serving on nine editorial boards, including the Review of Higher EducationJournal of Higher Education and Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. 

In recognition of Dr. Johnson’s outstanding early-career achievements, he was awarded the 2020 Distinguished Young Alumni Award from the University of Illinois. He has also received the 2020 Emerging Scholar Award and 2022 Outstanding Contribution to Multicultural Education and Research Award from ACPA—College Educators International; and the 2023 Early Career Award from AERA Division G. In recognition of his “exemplary leadership” in Penn State’s College of Education, he was awarded the 2021 Cotterill Leadership Enhancement Award. 

Dr. Johnson is a two-time graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he earned a BA in Political Science and an EdM in Educational Policy Studies. He earned his PhD in higher education and student affairs, with a cognate in race and social policy, from The Ohio State University. 

Awards and Grants

2022    AERA Division G Early Career Award

2022    AERA Multicultural/Multiethnic Education SIG's Dr. Carlos J. Vallejo Memorial Award for Emerging Scholarship

2022    ACPA’s Outstanding Contribution to Multicultural Education and Research Award    

2021    Penn State College of Education Cotterill Leadership Enhancement Award

2021    NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow Semi-finalist 

2020    University of Illinois College of Education Young Alumni Award

2020    ACPA Emerging Scholar-Designee 

Courses Taught

EDUC 728Complexity of Educational Systems: Emerging Ideas, Emerging Markets

EDUC 617: Race, Racism and Education

EDUC 707: Administration in Higher Education