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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. Other strands of research examine how to connect education research to public policy and sources of observed inequity in faculty salary, rank, and tenure.

Professor Perna’s work has informed and enriched that of other researchers, as illustrated by the more than 19,600 citations of her publications listed on Google Scholar, which has ranked her with an h-index research impact score of 64 (Google Scholar indicates that a score of 20 is good, 40 is outstanding, and 60 is truly exceptional). 


She has published her findings in books, journal articles, and policy reports, with 250 titles to her credit. Recent books include: Improving Research-Based Knowledge of College Promise Programs (American Educational Research Association, 2020); Taking It to the Streets: The Role of Scholarship in Advocacy and Advocacy in Scholarship (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018); The Attainment Agenda: State Policy Leadership for Higher Education (with Joni Finney, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014); and The State of College Access and Completion: Improving College Success for Students from Underrepresented Groups (with Anthony Jones, 2013).


Through a comprehensive and multi-faceted program of research, Professor Perna and her team have studied the efficacy of “college promise” programs, also known as “free tuition” or “free college” programs. As executive director of the Penn Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (Penn AHEAD), she led the team in developing a searchable database of college promise programs across the country and creating a framework for differentiating among the many different variations of college promise programs.

Learn more about Professor Perna’s contributions to the field of higher education by area of expertise:    

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