Date of Award

Summer 8-1-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

PhD Higher Education Leadership, Management, Policy


Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Robert Kelchen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Rong Chen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Hillary Morgan, Ph.D.


educational equity, Excelsior Program, free college, enrollment, retention, graduation, underrepresented students, difference-in-difference model



Educational equity has long been an important issue to which the U.S. government, academia, and the public have paid great attention in past decades. The federal government and state governments have successively promulgated policies to reduce the equity gap between well-represented and underrepresented students. As such, the Promise Program (a representative of free college policy) has become a popular tool to address the educational equity issue. New York was the first state in the United States that announced a statewide Promise (called the Excelsior Program) applying the free college policy to all public higher education sectors for its state residents. Will this program actually improve educational equity? This study seeks to explore this issue by focusing on the impact of the Excelsior Program on the educational equity of public 2-year and 4-year colleges. According to higher education equity theories, I considered three types of educational outcomes (enrollment, persistence, and graduation) as measures of educational equity.

Based on the annual data for the years 2010–2019 from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Dataset, I utilized a quasi-experimental design and conducted difference-in- difference (DiD) modeling to examine how the Excelsior Program affected the overall educational outcomes and how this effect varied across public 2-year and 4-year colleges (i.e., SUNY and CUNY) in New York (compared with colleges in other 37 states that did not implement the statewide Promise before the 2019–2020 academic year). To further explore the equity implication of the Excelsior Program, I also examined the effect of the Excelsior Program on the educational outcomes of underrepresented student groups. With respect to public 2-year colleges, the treatment state (New York) included 36 public colleges while the control group consisted of 573 public colleges. With respect to public 4-year colleges, the treatment state included 34 public colleges while the control group consisted of 424 public colleges.

Results show that for public 2-year colleges that have implemented the Excelsior Program, the undergraduate enrollment, retention, and graduation rate (total undergraduates) generally decreased. In the analysis of underrepresented groups, the enrollment of some racial minority groups, such as Hispanic (full-time first-time and total) and Native Hawaiian (full- time first-time) undergraduates decreased. The graduation of low-income undergraduates (full-time first-time) decreased. The decreased enrollment, retention, and graduation suggested that the Excelsior Program enabled high school graduates to access more alternative educational opportunities (versus public 2-year colleges), supporting the implications of the Excelsior Program for educational equity from a different view.

In public 4-year colleges that have implemented the Excelsior Program, the enrollment of full-time first-time undergraduate generally increased. In the analysis of underrepresented groups, the enrollment of low-income undergraduates (full-time first-time and total), American Indian (full-time first-time and total) and African American (full-time first-time and total) undergraduates increased. These findings strongly supported the implications of the Promise effect for educational equity in 4-year public colleges.

Available for download on Friday, July 07, 2023