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Pell Grant Restoration Initiative Expands College Access to Incarcerated Individuals

CoreCivic | 4/18/24 10:26 AM

The Pell Grant Restoration initiative (also referred to as Pell Grant for All) has paved the way for a significant expansion in prison education programs (PEPs) across the United States. For the first time in three decades, citizens impacted by the criminal justice system will have widespread access to Pell Grant funds to support their post-secondary education journey. Before the Pell Grant for All expansion, universities operating in correctional facilities had to anticipate their need and apply for a specific dollar amount of Pell Grant funds, pre-determining the number of participants through the “Second Chance Pell Experiment." Now, incarcerated individuals can apply for Pell Grants as part of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process. It is anticipated that post-secondary education participation in prisons will increase from 40,000 students to 760,000 nationwide.

CoreCivic is proud of its five-year partnership with Ashland University, which has been at the forefront of PEPs and has offered corrections-friendly education since 1964. Ashland University's curriculum spans various disciplines, from general studies to business and organizational leadership. All degree programs are offered online to incarcerated individuals through tablets and computers, which include course materials.

“Ashland University is known nationally for our work with this [incarcerated] population. We can make an impact that the public sector cannot. The rigor of these courses is precisely the same as any university student pursuing a degree. The Ashland University programs develop strong work habits, accountability, and transferable career skills, building a foundation for optimal reentry circumstances," said Jim Cox, assistant vice president of Correctional Education at Ashland University.

Each partner location has an on-site director who monitors the online faculty and staff while students earn their associate or bachelor's degree.

Denise Justice, executive director of Correctional Relations, explains their comprehensive approach, “Our On-Site Directors ensure access to technology and educational support. Having boots on the ground at every facility allows us to work directly with incarcerated individuals and the local staff. This approach allows for real-time support, feedback, and responsive process improvements.”

Both CoreCivic's and Ashland University’s commitment to the students continues beyond their time in a facility. Incarcerated individuals who undergo reentry while pursuing their degree can continue their studies after leaving a facility. Ashland University staff provides ongoing support during reentry, working with parole and probation staff and allowing individuals to pause their education through life transitions and resume seamlessly. With the facilitation of these Pell Grant funds, degrees are earned debt-free through Ashland University, providing one less risk factor for recidivism.

For educational institutions interested in entering this space, Justice and Cox emphasize that partnerships between academic institutions, state departments of corrections, and correctional facilities are integral to the success of PEPs.

“The relationships with wardens and staff in each location are necessary to deliver the highest level of service to each unique community and improve how Ashland can better assess student readiness for college-level courses,” said Justice.

Research on prison education programs conducted by the RAND Corporation and funded by the Department of Justice show that participants are 43 percent less likely to recidivate and have employment rates 13 percent higher than those who do not participate, supporting their successful reentry and strengthening public safety. Moreover, high-quality prison education programs contribute to a safer correctional environment with fewer violent incidents, benefitting residents and staff.

Pell Grant for All is part of the U.S. Department of Education’s ongoing efforts to champion access to federal student aid and higher education for underserved populations.

“Ashland University’s mission has always been to make education accessible to marginalized populations. Education is a strong conduit to change the minds and hearts of the public and those who have had an experience with the justice system," said Cox. "They are being shown an opportunity that can change their lives and offer mental and financial stability with the potential for further growth.”

CoreCivic prioritizes skill development for those in our care, as it best prepares them for reentry. CoreCivic plans to offer more degree-level programs that accept Pell Grant funding as partnerships with higher-education organizations, such as Ashland University, become more readily available.

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Topics: Reducing Recidivism, News