Claudia J. Coulton, PhD

Lillian F. Harris Professor of Urban Research & Social Change
Distinguished University Professor, Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Case Western Reserve University
PhD, Case Western Reserve University
MSW, Ohio State University
BA, Ohio Wesleyan University

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Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel
School of Applied Social Sciences
Case Western Reserve University
10900 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44106-7164


Claudia Coulton is Distinguished University Professor and the Lillian F. Harris Professor of Urban Social Research, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Case Western Reserve University. She is also founder and Co-Director of the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development. She is the author of over 150 journal articles, book chapters and policy reports and is a frequent presenter at national conferences. Her contributions to the field have been recognized with a number of awards including induction into the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare. Read full biographical sketch.

Course List

  • Introduction to Social Research
  • Needs Assessment and Program Evaluation

The Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development

mandel center webClaudia J. Coulton, Ph.D is founder and Co-Director of the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development.The Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development seeks to address the problems of persistent and concentrated urban poverty and is dedicated to understanding how social and economic changes affect low-income communities and their residents. Based in Cleveland, the Center views the city as both a tool for building communities and producing change locally, and as a representative urban center from which nationally-relevant research and policy implications can be drawn.. | Read More

Recent Publications

Coulton, C.J. & Spilsbury, J. (In press). Community and place based understanding of child well-being. In A. Ben-Arieh, I. Frones, F. Casas & J. Korbin (Eds.), Handbook of Child Well-Being, New York/ Heidelberg: Springer.

Fischer, R. L., Vadapalli, D., & Coulton, C.J. (In press). Merge ahead, increase speed: Bringing human services nonprofits together to explore restructuring options.Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly.

Coulton, C.J., Theodos, B., & Turner, M.A.,(in press), Residential mobility and neighborhood change: Real neighborhoods under the microscope. Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research.

Spilsbury, J., Korbin, J. E. & Coulton, C.J., (in press). Subjective” and “Objective” Views of Neighborhood Danger & Well-Being: The Importance of Multiple Perspectives and Mixed Methods. Child Indicators Research.

Fischer, R. L., Peterson, L., Bhatta, T. R., & Coulton, C.J. (2013). Getting ready for school: Piloting universal pre-kindergarten in an urban county. Journal of Education for Students Placed At Risk18(2), 128-140.

Coulton, C.J., Jennings, M. Z., & Chan, T. (2013). How big is my neighborhood? Individual and contextual effects on perceptions of neighborhood scale. American Journal of Community Psychology, 51(1-2), 140-150.

Coulton, C.J. (2012). Defining neighborhoods for research and policy. Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research, 14 (2), 195-200.

Beimers, D., & Coulton, C. J. (2011). Do employment and type of exit influence child maltreatment among families leaving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families? Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 1112–1119.

Coulton, C. J., Chan, T., & Mikelbank, K. (2011). Finding place in community change initiatives: Using GIS to uncover resident perceptions of their neighborhoods. Journal of Community Practice, 19, 10–28.

Crampton, D. S., & Coulton, C. J. (2011). The benefits of life table analysis for describing disproportionality. In D. Green, K. Belanger, R. McRoy, & L. Bullard (Eds.), Challenging racial disproportionality in child welfare: Research, policy and practice (pp. 45–52). Arlington, VA: CWLA Press.

Coulton, C. J., & Fischer, R. L. (2010). Using early childhood wellbeing indicators to influence local policy and services. In S. B. Kammerman, S. Phipps & A. Ben-Arieh (Eds). From child welfare to child well-being: An international perspective on knowledge in the service of making policy (pp. 101–116).New York, NY: Springer.

Coulton, C. J., Hexter, K, Schramm, M., Hirsch, A., & Richter, F. (2010). Facing the foreclosure crisis in Greater Cleveland: What happened and how communities are responding. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland: Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

Coulton, C. J., Schramm, M., & Hirsch, A. (2010). REO and beyond: The aftermath of the foreclosure crisis in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. In REO and vacant properties: Strategies for neighborhood stabilization. Cleveland, OH: A Joint Publication of the Federal Reserve Banks of Boston and Cleveland and the Board of Governors.

Colabanichi, N., Kinesella, A. E., Coulton, C. J., & Moore, S. M. (2009). Utilization and physical activity levels at renovated and unrenovated playgrounds. Preventive Medicine, 48, 140–143.

Coulton, C. J., & Irwin, M. (2009). Parental and community correlates of participation in out-of-school activities among children living in low income neighborhoods. Children & Youth Services Review, 31, 300–308.

Coulton, C. J., Theodos, B., & Turner, M. A. (2009). Residential mobility and neighborhood change: New evidence and implications for community initiatives. Washington, DC.: The Urban Institute.

Lim, Y., Coulton, C. J., & Lalich, N. (2009). State TANF policies and employment outcomes among welfare leavers. Social Service Review, 83, 525–555.

Spilsbury, J., Korbin, J., & Coulton, C. J. (2009). Mapping children’s neighborhood perceptions: Implications for child indicators. Child Indicators Research 2(2), 111–131.

Recent Presentations

Coulton, C., (January, 2013). Neighborhood metrics and measures: Alternative specifications and tools. Roundtable at the Annual Conference of the Society for Social Work and Research, San Diego, CA.

Coulton, C. (January, 2013). How residents perceive neighborhood scale: An examination of individual and contextual factors Presentation at the Annual Conference of the Society for Social Work and Research, San Diego, CA.

Fischer, R. L., & Coulton, C. J. (November, 2012). Using integrated data to assess and monitor a community initiative on child well-being.  Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action Annual Meeting, Indianapolis, IN.

The following memo was written by Grover Gilmore, the Dean of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences. Addressed to Case Western Reserve University Provost Bud Baeslack, the memo highlights Claudia Coulton’s accomplishments and the dean’s reasons for nominating her for Distinguished University Professor.

Claudia J. Coulton

The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School committee for Distinguished University Professor met recently and unanimously recommended Professor Claudia J. Coulton, Lillian F. Harris Professor of Urban Social Research, for nomination to this award. I fully agree with the committee recommendation and believe that Professor Coulton is extraordinarily deserving of this honor.

Her early research in child welfare, health care and mental health helped define who Dr. Claudia Coulton is today; a leading scholar in the field of urban studies who is well regarded by colleagues and sought out for her expertise locally, nationally and internationally.

Dr. Coulton has been a member of the MSASS faculty for 34 years. She is a stellar academician who possesses a record of outstanding accomplishments. She brings rigor, innovative methods and a multidisciplinary approach to addressing significant issues of concern to the profession and to society. She is also one of the most humble and generous faculty in the academic community. Her colleagues, students and staff are quick to praise her for a leadership style that encourages them to draw on their own knowledge and talents, which has resulted in a superior product and a willingness to work together harmoniously. She has brought academic respect and esteem to the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School and Case Western Reserve University.

In 1988, building on a multidisciplinary approach with affiliated faculty from MSASS, Arts and Sciences and the School of Medicine, Dr. Coulton took on the problems of persistent urban poverty. She founded the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development, one of the most visible elements of Case Western Reserve University. Its auspicious debut coincided with the Center’s selection by the Rockefeller Foundation to be part of its national program on urban research, planning and action. Dr. Coulton quickly emerged as a leader in this group of scholars, researchers and activists.

Indeed, when the Center’s first report on poor neighborhoods was released in 1990, William Julius Wilson presided and heralded it as a model for understanding the complex social and economic processes that characterized the concentrated and persistent poverty of industrial northeast cities.

Community Development

Today, the Center serves as an active partner in the community development agenda of the region by providing research and analysis that underpins effective action and builds knowledge for the field. A core capacity of the Center, and one that has been replicated across the country, is a regional information data warehouse and web portal that is used by thousands of individuals and organizations to inform community change work. Known as NorthEast Ohio Community and Neighborhood Data for Organizing (NEO CANDO), the data warehouse is an important resource, not only for her own research, but also for other researchers in the university, the region and the nation.

Drawing on her experience with NEO CANDO in Cleveland, Dr. Coulton founded the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, which now has affiliates in more than 35 cities. The Partnership provides tools to these cities to better understand macro-level systemic forces that produce distressed neighborhoods and identify what individuals, organizations and policies can do to reverse these conditions. The support is in the form of technically advanced information solutions to address urban social problems. The idea is that information is power, and with it individuals can increase their ability to improve their communities and participate fully in society. She is now working to expand this network internationally.

The impact of Dr. Coulton’s research cannot be denied. When the Center released a report showing that the poor and disenfranchised in Cleveland’s inner-city were unable to get to available jobs in the outer ring suburbs via public transportation, the Regional Transit Authority adjusted their routes to match the needs of the public.

When the Center began studying the causes and effects of the national foreclosure crisis, Dr. Coulton was called upon to testify before Congress in front of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the situation. The hearing also focused on an evaluation of the federal and state attempts to deal with the crisis. She had their collective ear as she called for interventions at every stage of the foreclosure process, from loans to maintaining vacant properties.

After nearly 25 years, the buzz about Dr. Coulton and her work has not died down. In November 2011, the Federal Reserve, through its Board of Governors in Washington, D.C., chose the Poverty Center as one of three places across the country showing “promising stabilization work” in the face of the foreclosure crisis. The FRB created and distributed nationally, a video on the work of the Center.

To quote Dr. Coulton, “There is a significant interdependence between universities and their regions and each will benefit from the success of the other. In particular, one of the most important contributions that a university can make to its region is through the research of its faculty and students. …By using the scientific and technological resources of the university, we contribute to planning, decision making, policy development, mobilization and problem solving. …In this sense, our research that is community relevant is our service.”

Distinguished Author

As a distinguished author of publications, journal articles, book chapters and policy reports, Dr. Coulton is one of the most cited scholars in the social welfare field. Early in her career she wrote, Social work quality assurance programs: A comparative analysis. (NASW Press, 1979) and was widely recognized for outstanding research on methods to improve the quality of social work services in health and mental health. In recognition of this important perspective she was appointed deputy editor of Medical Care, a health services research journal, and received several awards for her contributions to the field. An article, “Level Factors and Child Maltreatment Rates” in Child Development, has been cited nearly 500 times since appearing in 1995. It describes the relationship between community factors and child maltreatment.

Dr. Coulton is a gifted and caring educator who was honored with the prestigious John Diekhoff Award for Distinguished Graduate Teaching at Case Western Reserve University. During her first year as an assistant professor, she launched a hands-on skill-based, two-semester statistics course for graduate students. It was one of the first on campus to focus on practical data analysis skills using statistical analysis packages and integrated with statistics training for individuals in human service fields. Statistics is not an easy course to teach or one well received by students, but quickly her sections were filled with not only MSASS students, but by Ph.D. students from Schools and Departments across the University.

Before e-mail and Skype, she provided “distance learning” for her PhD. students. If they were based in faraway places such as Africa or Alaska, the lectures were video recorded and mailed each week along with exercises and assignments.

Today, no matter how full her research agenda, she takes on students for academic advising and research supervision at nearly twice the rate of other faculty. She serves as a field supervisor for Master’s students working in the Poverty Center. She is among the first to volunteer to attend MSASS recruitment events and open houses. She enjoys talking with prospective students and their families and she makes quite an impression.

Dr. Coulton is held in the highest esteem by her faculty colleagues. She is the one who takes on any challenge, responds to all requests and perhaps most importantly, can be counted on to get the job done.

Shortly after my appointment as Dean, I challenged our faculty to diversify the School’s funding base to include more federal dollars. Dr. Coulton was then serving as Associate Dean of Research. She took on my challenge and led the charge. Under her leadership, a series of initiatives were put in place designed to strengthen the research culture of the School and enhance the capacity of the faculty to be successful. Over the next five years with Dr. Coulton at the helm, research funding at MSASS increased more than 196 percent from $1,740,000 to $5,145,000. Since that time, with the structure in place, over 44 percent of our faculty research is federally funded.

In addition to lending her support to the research program at MSASS, she has served on the Steering Committee, was the first chair of the Community and Social Development Concentration and chaired the Health Specialization and the Curriculum Committee. She also directed the School’s Ph.D. Program for five years.

University Contributor

When the University calls for her time and talent, Dr. Coulton responds generously, recognizing the importance of contributing to the greater good. She served on the University Presidential Search Committee, the Research Council, the Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence Committee, the University Grievance Committee and has served as advisor to interdisciplinary centers such as the Schubert Center and the Center on Aging and Health. She served for over six years as the coordinator for the community research component of the Arthritis Center.

Dr. Coulton’s awards and honors are worthy of note. In 2010 she was an inaugural inductee into the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, whose fellows are the most distinguished in the field. Just a year later she was selected for the Executive Committee as Treasurer of the Academy. While she has received many awards over the years marking her exceptional contributions to the field, two stand out because they are given by scholarly peers to those whose work they most admire. The first was the Bruel Memorial Prize, awarded annually for the best article in Social Service Review, one of social work’s most important journals. The second was her selection as the Aaron Rosen Endowed Lecturer at the Annual Conference of the Society for Social Work and Research, another highly coveted honor.

In closing, Dr. Coulton has brought to the University table intellectual rigor and a deep sense of commitment to social action. Her innovative methods, multidisciplinary approaches and significant research findings have made a major impact on the lives of individuals and communities on the local, national and international level. In her pursuit of knowledge to influence programs or policies that bear on disadvantaged communities, she has made it possible for Case Western Reserve University to enter into not only neighboring communities but communities throughout the nation. Because of the extraordinary talent of Dr. Coulton, there is no chance of “ivory tower” criticism being associated with Case Western Reserve University. All of this incredible work is being done by Dr. Coulton without ever seeking attention to herself. There is no one at Case Western Reserve University more deserving of the title Distinguished University Professor than Dr. Claudia Coulton.

I have worked with Claudia J. Coulton since 1995 in my capacities as director of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP), of which Claudia was a founder and Executive Committee member, and as director of our Annie E. Casey Foundation Making Connections research program, of which she has been the lead researcher. I know of no one who matches her in devotion to high standards in scholarship and in devotion to meaningfully improving conditions in low-income neighborhoods.

While I could note a string of outstanding contributions she has made to the literature of social change as well, I will focus on one element of her work: the development and ongoing operation of a system of information about Cleveland’s neighborhoods. The system – NEOCANDO – has been used to effectively address many problems locally, but its impact nationally has been a watershed. Since the early 1990s, many cities around the country (36 now in NNIP alone) have developed neighborhood information systems, much enhancing the quality of local decisions. But NEOCANDO was the first, and all the others are in one way or another modeled after it. In addition to building and aggressively improving the model over time, her writings and other work with NNIP have been fundamental in spreading and advancing this practice more broadly. Major national institutions (e.g., the Federal Reserve system, the National League of Cities) have recognized the importance of these systems in advancing data-driven decision making at the local level. Claudia Coulton deserves the recognition she is now achieving nationally as the founder of this field.

— G. Thomas Kingsley, Senior Fellow, The Urban Institute, Washington, D.C.

In the News

Claudia Coulton, Data Guru

May 23 2016

claudia-coulton-main-photo“Claudia is the model that we need: a translator who can bridge academics, practitioners and policymakers. She is a source of inspiration, grounded locally and globally influential.”

Dr. Claudia Coulton, Co-Director and founder of the Poverty Center, is featured as the “Data Guru” in the current edition of CWRU’s think magazine. From pioneering “Big Data” from before it was even a term to using interpreted block-by-block statistics to fight the foreclosure crisis, Coulton has lead the field to house and analyze data to better inform the policymakers when they enact change.

A few highlights of successes using data gathered by Dr. Coulton and her team include:

“Data has changed the conversation,” explained Coulton.

To continue the cutting-edge Big Data research, Dr. Coulton and the Poverty Center rely on generous funding. If you’d like to give to the Center, please click here.

Read more about Claudia Coulton and Big Data in think magazine.

(The quote at the top is from Alaina Harkness, Brookings Institution fellow and former senior program officer at the MacArthur Foundation.)

Plain Dealer Article Highlights CWRU Study on the Negative Effects of Poor Housing on Kindergarten Readiness

Apr 25 2016

Abandoned Home in Cleveland croppedClaudia Coulton, co-director of the Poverty Center, was interviewed for “Bad housing—not just due to lead poisoning—tied to lower kindergarten test scores,” an article by The Plain Dealer featuring the Poverty Center’s recent study as a part of their series Toxic Neglect.

In the report Leveraging Integrated Data Systems to Examine the Effect of Housing and Neighborhood Conditions on Kindergarten Readiness, Claudia Coulton, Francisca Richter, Seok Joo Kim, Robert Fischer, and Youngmin Cho examine the effects of housing deterioration on elevated lead levels and kindergarten readiness.

Cleveland_Plain_Dealer_logo“The Case study points to the need for community leaders to pay closer attention to early warning signs that children are living in distressed housing,” Coulton said.  She suggested the city could integrate its data concerning high lead risk houses with other organizations’ data on indicators of housing deterioration to create an “early warning system” to monitor properties posing a high risk for children.

Nonprofit Quarterly also commented on the Plain Dealer story in a feature as well as the Poverty Center report.

To read more about the study, click here. The report brief is available here.

Click here for recent news from the Poverty Center about lead poisoning in children.

Pathway to Proficiency Report Published by the OERC

Apr 18 2016

Pathway to Proficiency Report mapThe Ohio Education Research Center (OERC) recently released Investigating the Pathway to Proficiency from Birth Through 3rd Grade, a report examining the impact of early childhood risk factors on kindergarten readiness and third grade reading proficiency. This study was conducted by Claudia Coulton, PhD and Robert Fischer, PhD, co-directors of the Poverty Center.

This large-scale study used an integrated data system (IDS) to combine data from three different data sources. They used county-level individual data from the ChildHood Integrated Longitudinal Data (CHILD) System, state-level individual data from the Education Management Information System (EMIS), and neighborhood-level data from the Northeast Ohio Community and Neighborhood Data for Organizing (NEO CANDO).

Pathway to Proficiency Report IDS approach graphic

Connecting these different data types provided a more comprehensive picture of the interactions of different risk factors, and allowed the researchers to investigate the connection between neighborhood poverty level and academic success.


Dr. Robert Fischer was previously interviewed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer about this report and its implications.

Click here to read the press release from the OERC. To read the full report, click here.