Rouse, a well-known scholar of the economics of education, is the founding director of the Princeton Education Research Section and a member of the National Academy of Education. She is a senior editor of The Future of Children, a policy journal published by the Wilson School and the Brookings Institution, and serves on the editorial board of the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy. 

From 2009 to 2011, Rouse served as a member of President Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, a three-member panel that provides the president with analysis and advice on a wide range of domestic and international economic policy issues. She worked in the White House at the National Economic Council from 1998 to 1999.

Rouse joined the Princeton faculty in 1992 after earning her Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University, where she also completed her undergraduate work. That same year, she joined the Industrial Relations Section, which functions as a research bureau, a reference library and the sponsor of research seminars. She later served as director of the section from 2006 to 2009.

Rouse's primary research interests are in labor economics, with a focus on the economics of education. She is the author of prominent papers on topics including the economic benefit of community college attendance, the existence of sex discrimination in symphony orchestras, the consequences of Milwaukee's private school voucher program on student achievement, the effect of student loan debt on career choices of college graduates and the impact of computer-assisted instruction on students' performance in reading and mathematics.

While most of Rouse's scholarly work has focused on domestic policy issues, she spent the year following receipt of her undergraduate degree from Harvard studying at L'Université de Cheikh Anta Diop in Senegal. She has also researched poverty in Sri Lanka and unions in South Africa.