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Laura W. Perna

Vice Provost for Faculty

GSE Centennial Presidential Professor of Education
Founding Executive Director, Penn AHEAD
University of Pennsylvania

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Professor Laura W. Perna is one of the nation’s foremost researchers on college access and affordability. Her scholarship focuses on one of the most pressing questions facing our nation today—how to ensure that all people, regardless of demographic characteristics and place of residence, have the opportunity to participate in and benefit from high-quality higher education. Of particular interest is identifying policies and practices of K–12 schools, colleges and universities, and federal and state governments that contribute to—and address—systemic barriers to higher education.


• College Access & Completion  • College Promise Programs

• Increasing Faculty Diversity • Connecting Research to Practice

Students in Cafeteria

Studying College Access and Choice: A Proposed Conceptual Model

Professor Perna’s​ widely cited conceptual model brings order to the study of ​college choice by describing and graphically portraying the many overlapping contexts in which a student considering college is embedded to show how college access and choice are structured for students.

Ed-Talk: Improving College Access and Success

Dr. Perna discusses the gaps in attainment between groups, why they exist, and what we might do to close them. 

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College Friends

Penn Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (AHEAD)

Professor Laura Perna is co-founder and executive director of the Penn Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (AHEAD), a research and consulting initiative dedicated to advancing higher education policy and practice that fosters open, equitable, and democratic societies. Through its engagement with policymakers, institutional leaders, scholars, and practitioners, AHEAD conducts research and applies research-based knowledge to address the most pressing issues pertaining to the public purposes of higher education in the United States and around the globe.

Celebrating Graduation Day

To provide all students with meaningful opportunities for higher education, we must address the structural failings in our educational system.

—Laura W. Perna, Ph.D.

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