Improving Research-Based Knowledge of College Promise Programs

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Improving Research-Based Knowledge of College Promise Programs

eBook Publication date: March 2020
ISBN: 978-0-935302-78-3

Laura W. Perna and Edward J. Smith, Editors

Also known as “free tuition” and “free college” programs, college promise programs are an emerging approach for increasing higher education attainment of people in particular places. To maximize the effectiveness of their efforts and investments, program leaders and policymakers need research-based evidence to inform program design, implementation, and evaluation. With the goal of addressing this knowledge need, this volume presents a collection of research studies that examine several categories and variations of college promise programs. These theoretically grounded empirical investigations use varied data sources and analytic techniques to examine the effects of college promise programs that have different design features and operate in different places. Individually and collectively, the results of these studies have implications for the design and implementation of promise programs if these programs are to create meaningful improvements in attainment for people from underserved groups. The authors’ efforts also provide a useful foundation for the next generation of college promise research.

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Title information

View the table of contents
Download the editors’ introduction
Read a Q&A with the coeditors
Watch a short video of the coeditors discussing the book

About the Editors

Laura W. Perna is Centennial Presidential Professor of Education and executive director of the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (AHEAD) at the University of Pennsylvania.  Her research examines the ways that social structures, institutional practices, and public policies promote and limit college access and success, particularly for groups that continue to be underrepresented in higher education.

Edward J. Smith is a program officer on the Kresge Foundation’s Education Team. He manages a portfolio of grants focused on promoting college opportunity and degree completion for marginalized students. His research analyzes city-led efforts to increase educational attainment.  

Publisher: American Educational Research Association
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Endorsements for Improving Research-Based Knowledge of College Promise Programs

“Essential reading for researchers, policy makers, and those who invest in increasing access and equity in postsecondary education. This volume provides a comprehensive overview of the evidentiary base for college promise programs and articulates a strategic and coordinated research agenda to advance the field. With contributions from some of the leading researchers on college promise programs, it will serve as a powerful consolidation of what we know and where we need to go.”

Jennifer Iriti, Research Scientist, Learning Research and Development Center; Director, Evaluation for Learning Group; Co-Director, Partners for Network Improvement; Faculty Fellow, Center for Urban Education; Adjunct Assistant Professor, Learning Sciences and Policy Program


“This volume provides a comprehensive assessment of the many types of programs that make up the college promise movement and offers new insights into their impact. The editors take on the critical challenge facing that movement—how to translate a growing body of research into accessible lessons for state and local policy makers—and, with their contributors, help deepen our shared understanding of what the promise movement means.”

Michelle Miller-Adams, Senior Researcher, W. E. Upjohn Institute; Professor, Grand Valley State University; author, The Power of a Promise (2009) and Promise Nation (2015)


“This volume provides important research and highlights the critical nature of key design decisions as policy makers consider new promise programs going forward.”

Jennifer Mishory, Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation


“Important reading for anyone involved in efforts to increase college access and completion. While college promise programs have made enormous strides in improving college access across the United States, the evidence reveals that gaps still exist. This volume offers a comprehensive overview of existing research on the outcomes of college promise programs and invites the questions that should inform both program design and future research on the subject. It is a valuable resource for educators, administrators, legislators, and policy makers as we strive to make higher education accessible and attainable for everyone.”

Kenyatta Lovett, Executive Director, Complete Tennessee


“The college promise movement has been one of the top trends in state and local education policy over the past five years. A popular policy idea with significant variation at implementation, promise programs capture a range of concepts and efforts to support college attainment and social mobility for a diverse array of student groups.  Yet what the field has been lacking until this volume is a holistic, critical and deep look into the varying definitions, impacts and early outcomes of college promise programs and policies.  This edited volume provides keen insights and pushes our collective thinking about what promises are being made—and which are being kept—in a policy domain in great need of responsible interrogation.”

Brian A. Sponsler, Vice President of Policy, Education Commission of the States