Claudia J. Coulton, PhD

Lillian F. Harris Professor of Urban Research & Social Change
Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences
Distinguished University Professor
Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences
Founding Director
Center on Poverty and Community Development

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Dr. Claudia Coulton is Distinguished University Professor and the Lillian F. Harris Professor, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Case Western Reserve University. She is founding director of the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development. Under her leadership, the Center has built a model capacity to provide data for community initiatives and research, including a dynamic neighborhood indicators portal (NEO CANDO), a parcel-based collaborative action platform (NST) and a longitudinal multi-agency record linkage system (CHILD).

Coulton is a founder of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership and has served as research adviser to many community change programs including Aspen Institute’s Roundtable on Comprehensive Community Initiatives, Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Making Connections program and the Invest in Children initiative. She is currently co-leading a Grand Challenge for Social Work, Harnessing Technology for Social Good, with a focus on better utilizing information technology to inform social policy and practice. Her recent studies focus on the impact of the built and social environment on children’s health and development. She is the author of numerous scientific publications and policy reports.

Curriculum Vitae
Google Scholar

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.

The Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development

Claudia J. Coulton, Ph.D is founder and Co-Director of the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development. The Center 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 about the Poverty Center

Teaching Information

Courses Taught

Introduction to Social Research
SASS 523. Needs Assessment and Program Evaluation

Research Information

Recent Funding

US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Leveraging Administrative Data to Examine Youth Homelessness, 2020-2024 ($645,622). Co-investigator.

Saint Lukes Foundation, Data to Promote a Lead Safe Cleveland. 2018-2020 ($50,000). Principal Investigator.

Mt. Sinai Foundation, Data to Promote a Lead Safe Cleveland. 2018-2020. ($50,000). Principal Investigator.

George Gund Foundation. Data to Promote a Lead Safe Cleveland. 2018-2020. ($75,000), Principal Investigator.

NIH-National Cancer Institute (P20-CA233216. Li, PI) Case Comprehensive Cancer Center (Case CCC) Cancer Health Disparities SPORE Planning Grant (09/2018 – 08/2021). Co-Investigator.

Ohio Department of Medicaid, Ohio Opioid Analytics Project.. 2018-19. ($92,229) Principal Investigator.

Third Federal Foundation. Residential mobility and early learning outcomes for children touched by P-16 in Slavic Village. 2018. ($30,000). Principal Investigator.

National Institute of Justice (IJCX0221, Kagawa, R., PI). (Sub-contract, University of California, Davis). Preventing Firearm Violence: An Evaluation of Urban Blight Removal in High Risk Communities. 2018-2021. ($699,964) Co-Investigator.

National Institute of Aging. (1R01AG055480-Dalton PI). Modeling and Forecasting Atherosclerotic Risk: A Complex Systems Approach, 2017-2021(815,792) Co-Investigator.

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (Sub-contract from California State University). Design Study of Dual System Youth-Four City Study. 2016-2018. ($150,000) Co-Investigator.


Recent Publications

Fischer, R. L., Vadapalli, D., & Coulton, C.J..(2017) Merging ahead, increase speed: A Pilot of Funder-Driven Nonprofit Restructuring. Journal of Public and Nonprofit Affairs. 3(1), 40-54.

Coulton C.J., Spilsbury J.C. (2014) "Community and Place-Based Understanding of Child Well-Being." In: Ben-Arieh A., Casas F., Frønes I., Korbin J. (eds) Handbook of Child Well-Being, pp.1307-1334 Springer, Dordrecht.

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 Risk, 18(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., Theodos, B., & Turner, M.A.. (2012) Residential mobility and neighborhood change: Real neighborhoods under the microscope. Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research. 14 (3), 55-90.

Spilsbury, J., Korbin, J. E. & Coulton, C.J.. (2012). Subjective” and “Objective” Views of Neighborhood Danger & Well-Being: The Importance of Multiple Perspectives and Mixed Methods. Child Indicators Research. 5 (3), 469–482.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." In REO & Vacant Properties: Strategies for Neighborhood Stabilization, Cleveland, OH: A Joint Publication of the Federal Reserve Banks of Boston and Cleveland and the Federal Reserve Board.

Colabanichi, N., Kinsella, A. E., Coulton, C. J., & Moore, S. M. (2009). Utilization and physical activity levels at renovated and unrenovated playgrounds. Preventive Medicine, 48 (2), 140–143.

Coulton, C. J., & Irwin, M. (2009). Parental and community level correlates of participation in out-of-school activities among children living in low income neighborhoods. Children & Youth Services Review, 31 (3), 300–308.

Coulton, C. J., Theodos, B., & Turner, M. A. (2009). Family 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.


Doctor of Philosophy
Case Western Reserve University
Master of Social Work
Ohio State University
Bachelor of Arts
Ohio Wesleyan University

Additional Information


  • Community Practice for Social Change
  • Masters of Nonprofit Organizations
  • Undergraduate Minor in Social Work

In the News

Honoring the Retirement of Claudia J. Coulton
September 23, 2022

Driven to act
June 02, 2022

Dr. Claudia J. Coulton will retire at end of 2021–22 academic year
May 09, 2022

Coulton and Voisin Among Top 2% Most-Cited Researchers in World
March 16, 2022

Distinguished University Professor Claudia Coulton advises on report series; Poverty Center work cited
March 04, 2022

Leaving a lasting legacy
November 18, 2021

Mandel School faculty members are working to Harness Technology for Social Good
October 26, 2021

Mandel School and School of Engineering partner to offer new Data Sciences for Social Impact Certificate
September 17, 2021

Preventing lead poisoning at the source
October 21, 2020

Study of ‘downstream’ effects of childhood lead poisoning reveals racial, economic disparities in adulthood
June 22, 2020

Homelessness just ‘one of the concerns’ when someone is evicted
January 29, 2020

Nine Alumni Award Winners Honored at Homecoming 2019
October 4, 2019

Claudia Coulton Awarded ‘Social Work Pioneer’ by NASW
August 20, 2019

Equity at the Forefront: New Tab Added to Poverty Center's Progress Index
July 22, 2019

Mandel School boasts four of the top 100 social work professors in the country
March 26, 2019

Using Integrated Data to Identify and Protect Children From Educational Risk - a Cleveland Case Study.
by The Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development on January 8, 2019

Distinguished University Professor 2012

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.

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.