The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has announced it will expand the “Second Chance” Pell Grant experiment for the 2022-2023 award year.
The Second Chance Pell experiment has provided education opportunities for thousands of justice-involved individuals who have been previously unable to access federal need-based financial aid.
Launched in 2015 by the DOE, the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative, provides need-based Pell grants to people in state and federal prisons, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.
This initiative examines whether expanding access to college financial aid increases incarcerated adults’ participation in postsecondary educational opportunities.
The expansion announced Friday will allow up to 200 colleges and universities to offer their prison education programs with support from the Pell Grant program. Current participants number 131.
Students in this program have earned over 7,000 credentials, build new skills and improve their odds of success.
The project’s objectives include:
- giving incarcerated people the opportunity to further their education and secure additional education and employment opportunities post-release;
- increased educational opportunities are key to providing economic stability for both incarcerated people and their families—reducing recidivism and securing long term success after release; and
- helping people advance their education can have additional positive benefits for their children; research shows that education levels of parents are strong predictors of the educational achievements of their children.
In December 2020, lawmakers revived access to the Pell Grant program to include students who are incarcerated, as long as they are enrolled in prison educations programs that are approved by their state corrections departments or the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
According to Vera’s report on this project, post-secondary education in prison contributes to successful reentry for people who have been incarcerated and promotes public safety.
Also, it shows that incarcerated people who participated in postsecondary education programs are 48 percent less likely to return to prison than those who do not.
Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education; A Meta-Analysis of Programs That Provide Education to Incarcerated Adults, a RAND research report, says correctional education may also improve their chances of obtaining employment after release.
According to the report’s key finding, “The odds of obtaining employment post-release among inmates who participated in correctional education was 13 percent higher than the odds for those who did not participate in correctional education.”
Vera estimates that expanded access to higher education in prison will also increase combined wages earned by all formerly incarcerated people by about $45.3 million in the first year of release, according to Forbes.
Vera says a growing number of employers, including JP Morgan Chase & Co. and Target, have committed to creating meaningful employment opportunities for people coming out of prison.
The expansion will also expand the geographic range of the program, with the goal of including programs in most of the 50 states. This will allow the inclusion of an even wider variety of postsecondary education programs serving a more diverse population, according to the DOE.
“Too often justice-impacted individuals are left out of the higher-education landscape,” said Amy Loyd, Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education, in announcing the expansion.
“We are taking a crucial step toward the reinstatement of Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated students. The steps we’ve taken to include more geographic and program diversity in the experiment will strengthen our understanding of the needs of both the institutions and the students they serve.”
The DOE intends to implement these legislative changes to allow eligible students in college-in-prison programs to access federal Pell Grants beginning on July 1,. 2023.
Institutions interested in applying to participate in the new cohort of Second Chance Pell may submit an application to the Department. Applications will be open from July 30, 2021 for institutions to be accepted for the 2022-23 award year.
Gabriela Felitto is a TCR Justice Reporting intern.