Will college promise programs improve or reduce equity? Understanding the contextual conditions that influence program implementation

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Abstract

Although “free tuition” programs are politically popular, some worry that these programs will exacerbate inequity. Scholars note that program outcomes depend on implementation, but few have probed the contextual conditions that contribute to differences in implementation or the consequences of implementation for equity. To address this knowledge gap, we draw on conceptual models of implementation fidelity and case studies of last-dollar, free tuition programs at four community colleges. The consequences of an implemented program for equity depend on program content and coverage and are moderated by programmatic and organizational conditions. For the studied programs, implemented content includes the financial award and non-financial academic supports. Coverage is determined by eligibility requirements. Program content and coverage are moderated by programmatic characteristics, including program goals and placement in the organizational structure, program staffing, and recruitment strategies. Organizational conditions, including sources and availability of funding, availability of synergistic programs, capacity for data collection and evaluation, and perceptions of the community college also moderate implementation. The results inform understanding of how to implement programs at community colleges that increase equity in particular contexts.

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Article Details

How to Cite
Perna, L. W., Wright-Kim, J., & Leigh, E. W. (2021). Will college promise programs improve or reduce equity? Understanding the contextual conditions that influence program implementation. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 29(January - July), 26. https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.29.5436
Section
Policy Implementation as an Instrument to Achieve Educational Equity
Author Biographies

Laura W. Perna, University of Pennsylvania

Laura W. Perna is Vice Provost for Faculty, GSE Centennial Presidential Professor of Education, and Executive Director of the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (AHEAD) at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on identifying how social structures, educational practices, and public policies promote and limit college access and success, particularly for students from groups that are underrepresented in higher education.

Jeremy Wright-Kim, University of Pennsylvania

Jeremy Wright-Kim is a PhD Candidate in Higher Education at University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. His research agenda attempts to identify and address structural and institutional inequities that hinder American higher education from delivering on its promise of educational equity for all students, with a particular focus on community colleges as engines for opportunity.

 

Elaine W. Leigh, University of Pennsylvania

Elaine W. Leigh is a PhD Candidate in Higher Education at University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. Her research interests include policies and practices that address inequities in postsecondary access and completion for underrepresented students across the P-20 pipeline and the role of postsecondary education in community and economic development.