Skip to main content

| |   Follow Penn AHEAD on Facebook Follow Penn AHEAD on Twitter    Follow Penn AHEAD on LinkedIn



AHEAD creates and advances knowledge by conducting high-quality research and disseminating results in scholarly publications and books, meetings of scholars, practitioners, and policymakers, and the popular media. The knowledge produced by these research projects informs our capacity-building work and professional-development programs. These projects focus on improving understanding of:

  • The role of public policies and institutional practices in reducing and perpetuating stratification in the opportunity to participate and benefit from higher education;
  • The societal forces that promote and limit the public purposes of higher education institutions;
  • The internal and external forces that limit and promote full engagement in the shared governance of a higher education institution; and
  • Ways to empower students to become future civic leaders and agents of change in a democratic society.

Featured Project

College Promise Programs

Project Description: Over the last decade, but especially in the past few years, programs with a “promise” label have been advanced at the local, state, and federal levels. This project is designed to improve research-based knowledge that can inform understanding of how to design and structure a promise program to achieve particular goals and outcomes.

Funder: The research is supported in part by Civic Nation (September 2015 – June 2016).

Principal Investigator: Laura Perna.   

View the Project

Current Research Projects

  • Global Higher Education
Jul 2018 - present

Today, international rankings exert a great deal of influence on higher education policies in many countries. However, these rankings tend to disproportionately benefit institutions that are older, wealthier, larger, and research focused. They do not take into account many other important factors including student success and the impact these institutions have in their localities and regions. They fail to recognize the many ways institutions can be impactful and “excellent” based on their unique missions and histories. This research seeks to hold up new models of institutional excellence and to show the pathways various institutions have followed to achieve excellence on their own terms. The work will involve developing detailed case studies of approximately a dozen institutions in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America.

  • Higher Education Governance
Jan 2017 - present

Improving university governance and supporting trustees and administrators as they address today’s most pressing challenges are essential for a robust higher education sector. The Penn Project on University Governance engages and collaborates with trustees, administrators, policy makers, faculty leaders, and other key stakeholders to improve governance and advance their universities, colleges, and state systems.

  • College Access & Success
Sep 2016 - present

This project is intended to improve knowledge of the policies and practices that will effectively improve higher education attainment especially among groups that are historically underrepresented in higher education.

This project has two components: (1) “Institutional predictors” uses data from IPEDS and the Delta Cost Project to identify potential levers that public and private not-for-profit four-year institutions may use to improve graduation rates for Pell Grant recipients. (2) “Questioning the Calculations” examines the cost-related information that colleges and universities are providing on their websites.

Read More about Questioning the Calculations


  • College Access & Success
Sep 2015 - present

This project is designed to improve research-based knowledge that can inform understanding of how to design and structure a promise program to achieve particular goals and outcomes.

  • College Access & Success
Sep 2014 - present

This project is intended to improve the availability and use of data documenting trends in the status of inequity in higher education opportunity and outcomes.

  • Global Higher Education
Jan 2009 - present

This research project is examining how higher education institutions in Kazakhstan are responding to efforts to move from a system based on centralized ministerial control to one characterized by increased institutional autonomy and market sensitivity.

  • Higher Education Governance

The Board Culture Profile will help boards take better advantage of their cultural strengths, reveal possible blindspots, and mitigate weaknesses as they relate to the work they are facing and the contexts in which they operate.

Completed Projects

  • College Access & Success

This project focused on synthesizing the effects of grant aid to undergraduates. Grants, defined as money that reduces college costs and does not have to be repaid, may be awarded based on financial need and/or academic merit, place of residence, or other criteria. Aid includes grants, scholarships, “free tuition,” tuition waivers, and subsidies. Tuition-price setting, athletic scholarships, individual tax savings accounts, work study, and aid programs requiring service are excluded. Aid programs that are bundled together and do not analyze the effect of one specified aid program are also excluded. Studies of the elimination or loss of grant aid meeting these intervention criteria were included and analyzed separately from the studies evaluating effects of the presence of grant aid. Studies that met inclusion criteria featured seven different types of grant aid programs: 1) federal grants, 2) national scholarships, 3) state-sponsored grants, 4) institutional grants, 5) student performance-based financial incentives, 6) emergency financial assistance, and 7) promise programs.

  • Online Higher Education

The results of this descriptive but foundational research may also inform the design of future MOOC offerings, guide the revision of existing courses, help institutions assess the viability of MOOC courses, and inform user-selection of courses.

  • Economics of Higher Education
  • Higher Education Policy

Remapping of U.S. post-secondary education to include a description of the current marketplace to the general public, an explanation of various institution types, insights for policymakers, performance evaluation by analysts, and assistance for institutional leaders to be both mission-centered and market smart.

  • Higher Education Policy

This project focuses on addressing the following question: How can changes in conversations around Lumina's federal policy priorities be measured and monitored?

  • Higher Education Governance
  • Higher Education Policy

AHEAD’s proposal to the Teagle Foundation seeks funding to support a series of demonstration projects that, over two-and-a-half years, would teach the enterprise more about what works, what doesn’t, and why, by working with the faculty at six to nine institutions seeking to design and implement both more effective and efficient curricula.

  • College Access & Success

Designed to understand the experiences that are associated with greater civic and community involvement among undergraduate students.

  • Global Higher Education

This research project is designed to understand the role of a government-sponsored student mobility program in promoting human capital development.

  • Higher Education Policy

Offers a framework for understanding how state public policy can effectively promote educational attainment.