Postsecondary Opportunity Programs

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Postsecondary Opportunity Programs (POPs)

Project Leads

Elizabeth Vaade 

Policy Analyst, WISCAPE
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Bo McCready

Project Assistant, WISCAPE
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Noel Radomski (BIO)

Director and Associate Researcher, WISCAPE
University of Wisconsin-Madison


Over the past 20 years, issues of rising college costs, persistent gaps in enrollment and completion for underrepresented students, and financial hardship for institutions and communities have become increasingly challenging. In this difficult climate, a subset of comprehensive programs has arisen to address issues of college opportunity and economic improvement. While a great deal of policy innovation and diffusion has occurred in this area in recent years, no clear definition of these programs exists. To help researchers and policymakers group, describe, compare, analyze, and evaluate these programs, WISCAPE has developed a common term and set of shared characteristics to encompass them.
Postsecondary opportunity programs (POPs) are state, county, municipal, institutional, and private programs and partnerships that aim to increase educational attainment by confronting the barriers to postsecondary access, persistence, and success. In addition, many of these programs identify educational attainment as a means to economic and community development. They exist under many names, including promise programs, compacts, covenants, and early commitments.  POPs rely on a combination of elements—financial assistance and pre-college and college support services—to create a more comprehensive approach to increasing educational attainment.

The complete descriptive analysis can be found in the WISCAPE policy brief, Postsecondary Opportunity Programs: Defining and Improving an Educational Policy Innovation.

WISCAPE has undertaken several research projects as part of this larger study of the development, structure, and impact of POPs. This includes a continually updated database of programs across the nation capturing over 30 characteristics of each program, such as goals, structure, and the services they provide to students.

Related WISCAPE publications

Related Papers and Presentations

  • Vaade, E.S., & McCready, B. (2010, November 6).Universal or targeted eligibility for Postsecondary Opportunity Programs: Implications for efficiency, equity, and feasibility. Presented at the 2010 Fall Research Conference of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) in Boston, MA. Download conference paper.
  • Vaade, E.S., & McCready, B. (2010, June 17). Postsecondary Opportunity Programs. Presented at the 2010 PromiseNet Conference, Kalamazoo, MI.
  • Vaade, E. S., & Connery, J. E. (2009, November 9). New approaches to improving college access, persistence, and success: Three exemplary postsecondary opportunity programs. Presented at the 2009 Annual Policy Summit of the Midwestern Higher Education Compact, Fargo, ND.
  • Vaade, E. S., & Radomski, R. T. (2009, November 4). Promise programs: Trends, comparative analysis, and future opportunities to increase educational attainment and advance community and economic development. Paper presented for the Council on Public Policy and Higher Education at the 34th Annual Conference of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, Vancouver, BC

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