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Professor Laura Perna has authored and edited more than 250 publications, including books, chapters, articles, monographs, reports, working papers, book reviews, essays, and blog posts on topics such as college access and success, college promise programs, financial aid and affordability, student debt, outreach and intervention programs, students who work, state higher-education policy, scholars as advocates for change, and equity in faculty salaries and tenure. Visit the Media page to read Dr. Perna's op-eds.

See below for selected publications by topic area. For more publications by Dr. Perna, please visit her University of Pennsylvania ScholarlyCommons or Google Scholar pages.

Does Aid Matter? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Grant Aid on College Student Outcomes

This co-authored manuscript presents results of a comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of grants on student outcomes across 86 studies. The meta-analytic results show small but meaningful positive average effects on college enrollment, credit accumulation, persistence, and completion. Using a relatively new method called an evidence gap map, we illustrate where researchers should focus on producing new evidence.

The Effects of Losing Postsecondary Student Grant Aid: Results From a Systematic Review

With the goal of informing federal and state policy makers in a time of budget constraints, we used a systematic review methodology to identify and summarize findings from studies that examined the effects of losing grant aid due to policy changes and students’ failure to meet renewal requirements. Studies reviewed in this policy brief show negative effects on student outcomes when grant aid is reduced or eliminated. While results vary, this general conclusion applies when grant aid is reduced or eliminated from programs that differ in scope (federal and state), eligibility requirements (merit and need), and award amounts. This brief illuminates the importance of maintaining grant aid funding for college student enrollment, persistence, achievement, and completion. Especially in context of other pandemic-related stressors, reducing need-based grant aid will likely exacerbate declines in college enrollment, progression through college, and degree completion for vulnerable students.

Studying College Access and Choice: A Proposed Conceptual Model

Professor Perna’s​ widely cited conceptual model on college access and choice (2006) describes and graphically portrays how the resources that are - and are not - available to students in the contexts in which they are embedded serve to structure and determine college enrollment outcomes. Her model, which integrates aspects of economic and sociological approaches, assumes that an individual’s assessment of the benefits versus the costs of investing in college is shaped by the person’s habitus as well as by the school and community context, the higher education context, and the social, economic, and policy context. Published as a chapter in Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, Vol. XXI, edited by J. C. Smart.

The Relationship between Parental Involvement as Social Capital and College Enrollment: An Examination of Racial/Ethnic Group Differences

This 2005 study, conducted with Marvin A. Titus, examines how parental involvement influences the college enrollment of students of different racial/ethnic groups. This paper in the Journal of Higher Education illustrates that parental involvement as a form of social capital is positively related to college enrollment, by providing access to needed resources.

The Attainment Agenda: State Policy Leadership in Higher Education, by Laura Perna and Joni Finney (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014)

Co-authors Laura Perna and Joni Finney report on their in-depth case studies of higher education attainment in five states—Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Texas, and Washington—exploring the relationship between state policy and higher education performance. The authors argue for a comprehensive approach toward improving college attainment, arguing that state leaders must adopt policies that not only increase the demand for and supply of higher education, but also level the playing field for higher educational opportunity.

The Role of States in Higher Education. Testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), Washington, D.C., July 2014

In Senate testimony, Professor Perna shared five conclusions from her comprehensive study, conducted with Joni Finney, of the relationship between state policy and higher education, which they presented in their book The Attainment Agenda: State Policy Leadership for Higher Education: 1) The relationship between public policy and higher education attainment cannot be understood without considering the state context. 2) State leaders need to articulate their goals for improving attainment and closing gaps—and steer institutions toward meeting these goals. 3) State policy should be oriented toward affordability, college readiness and transferability of credits, and making high-quality college options available to all state residents. 4) Public policies must focus on leveling the playing field for higher education attainment. 5) States must monitor how well their public policies are working to achieve their goals and adjust the policies as needed.

Money Matters: Understanding How Colleges and Universities Use Their Websites to Communicate Information about How to Pay College Costs

Colleges that receive federal student aid are required to post “net price calculators” on their websites to help prospective students understand their expected out-of-pocket cost of attendance. But in this 2021 study of 80 four-year institutions, authors Laura Perna, Jeremy Wright-Kim, and Nathan Jiang found that at least a third of the institutions were presenting information in ways that might mislead students about the actual costs of attending. The researchers were able to navigate from an institution’s home page to the net price calculator for 88% of the institutions. On the remaining websites, the link to the calculator either could not be found or did not consistently work. Reported in the journal Educational Policy.

Improving College Access and Completion for Low-Income and First-Generation Students: The Role of College Access and Success Programs. Testimony to the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, Committee on Education and the Workforce, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C., April 2015

In this congressional testimony, Professor Perna described the disadvantages faced by low-income and first-generation college students aspiring toward a post-secondary degree. She offered five recommendations for federal policy aimed at overcoming these barriers: 1) Assist students with navigating pathways into and through college, with particular attention to financial aid processes. 2) Target students with the greatest financial need. 3) Encourage programs to recognize the state, regional, and local context and characteristics of students served. 4) Leverage federal spending to serve greater numbers of students. 5) Encourage research and evaluation to improve understanding of what works.

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