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Laura W. Perna

GSE Centennial Presidential Professor of Education, University of Pennsylvania
Areas of Expertise:

About Laura

Perna's research uses various methodological approaches to identify how social structures, educational practices, and public policies promote and limit college access and success, particularly for groups that are underserved by higher education. She has served as President of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), Vice President of the Postsecondary Division of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), and chair of Penn’s Faculty Senate. She was a member of the Gates Commission on the Value of Postsecondary Education and is on the Board of Directors for the Postsecondary National Policy Institute (PNPI).


No Jargon Podcast

In the News

"Federal Pell Grants Help Pay for College – But are they Enough to Help Students Finish?," Laura W. Perna (with Jeremy Wright-Kim), Southern Maryland Chronicle, February 2, 2020.
Laura W. Perna quoted on impact of college grants on first generation students by William Zumeta, "Washington State’s Big Bet on ‘Free College’ " The Conversation, July 18, 2019.
Laura W. Perna quoted on using research to advocate for social change by Mary Beth Marklein, "Scholars Look for Ways to Restore Respect for Expertise" University World News, April 21, 2018.
"Can College "Promise" Programs Deliver?," Laura W. Perna (with Edward J. Smith and Elaine W. Leigh), The Conversation, December 12, 2017.
Guest to discuss How Ending Tax-Free Tuition Waivers Could Impact U.S. Higher Ed on [email protected], Laura W. Perna, December 6, 2017.
"Five Tax Changes that Will Hurt U.S. Higher Education," Laura W. Perna, Medium, December 6, 2017.
"College Promise Programs: Designing Programs to Achieve the Promise ," Laura W. Perna (with Elaine Leigh), Higher Education Today, February 13, 2017.
Guest to discuss The African ‘Brain Drain’ Conundrum on Voice of America, Laura W. Perna, November 29, 2016.
Guest to discuss Presidential Candidates’ Plans for Student Debt on [email protected] with Dan Loney, Laura W. Perna, November 3, 2016.
Guest to discuss Implications of the Closure of ITT on [email protected] with Dan Loney, Laura W. Perna, September 8, 2016.
"Improving Equity in Higher Education Attainment is Imperative," Laura W. Perna, The Hill, February 11, 2015.
"Keeping the National Center for Education Statistics Independent," Laura W. Perna, The Hill, August 28, 2014.
"Why State Leadership Matters for Improving Access to Higher Education," Laura W. Perna (with Joni Finney), Inside Sources, July 27, 2014.


"Understanding Student Debt: Implications for Federal Policy and Future Research" (with James Kvaal and Roman Ruiz). The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 671 (2017): 270-286.

Reflects on major themes that emerge from the studies presented in this volume and identifies implications for federal policy and future research.

The Attainment Agenda: State Policy Leadership in Higher Education (with Joni Finney) (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014).

Draws on data collected from case studies of the relationship between public policy and higher education performance in five states to offer a framework for understanding how state public policy can effectively promote higher education attainment.

"Promoting Human Capital Development: A Typology of International Scholarship Programs in Higher Education" (with Kata Orosz, Bryan Gopaul, Zakir Jumakulov, Adil Ashirbekov, and Marina Kishkentayeva). Educational Researcher 43 (2014): 63-73.

Sheds light on the availability and characteristics of international scholarship programs that are sponsored by national and federal governments worldwide and that are intended to promote student mobility and offers a framework for organizing the population of these programs.

The State of College Access and Completion: Improving College Success for Students from Underrepresented Groups (with Anthony Jones) (Routledge, 2013).

Draws together leading researchers to summarize the state of college access and success and provide recommendations for how institutional leaders and policymakers can effectively improve college access and completion. 

Understanding the Working College Student: New Research and its Implications for Policy and Practice (Stylus Publishing, LLC, 2010).

Provides a multi-faceted picture of the characteristics, experiences, and challenges of working college students and identifies implications of working for undergraduate students’ educational experiences and outcomes.