Expanding Access to College in Prisons, Equity Concerns Remain

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Inside Higher Ed: Meghan Brink - August 3, 2022

Next year prisoners will be eligible for Pell Grants under a new proposal from the Education Department that is estimated to benefit around 500,000 people behind bars. Colleges will have an opportunity to launch new programs in prisons, providing a key opportunity for incarcerated individuals to prepare themselves to re-enter society after they serve their time.

There have been limited opportunities to access higher education in prisons since a 1994 law made prisoners ineligible for Pell Grants, federal financial aid for low-income students. In 2016, the Education Department began to offer Pell funding to some colleges to begin offering courses in prisons through the Second Chance Pell experiment.

Under a new proposal released last week, the department would allow any public or private nonprofit college to start a prison education program, following a set of guidelines and an approval process, and will provide Pell Grants, which currently provide up to $6,895 in federal student aid per academic year, to prospective students in prisons starting in July 2023. For-profit colleges will not be eligible to receive Pell funding for prison education programs.


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