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College Promise Programs

Through a comprehensive and multi-faceted program of research, Professor Laura Perna and her research team are advancing knowledge of “college promise” initiatives, programs that provide funding for low-income students to attend college. With a central goal of raising educational attainment in the United States, these programs “promise” a financial aid award to eligible students who live or attend school in a particular place. Professor Perna’s team aims to expand research-based knowledge on this emerging approach for boosting higher education attainment. Program leaders and policymakers can tap into this knowledge to help shape program design, implementation, and evaluation.

Professor Perna and her team compiled a searchable online database of 200 college promise and student grant programs operating in 40 states and Washington, D.C., describing each program’s funding, student eligibility requirements, student demographics, and educational interventions. The database helps states and communities design and structure effective promise programs. Professor Perna has studied and written about many facets of the free-college movement, including: how best to structure college promise programs to promote college success among underrepresented groups; how program design affects equity and efficiency; and the forces that affect how college promise programs are designed and implemented.

With Elaine Leigh, Professor Perna developed a typology of college promise programs that details important differences among programs and provides a foundation for future research.


Drawing on case study data, Elaine Leigh and Jeremy Wright-Kim offer a framework for considering the implications of free community college programs for equity and efficiency and for understanding the forces that influence the characteristics of implemented programs.


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