Using the power of social media, the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) is bringing awareness to the financial aid barriers placed in front of young men and women who have been caught up in the justice system.
The campaign, #CollegeNotPrison, launched on Tuesday and aims to educate policymakers, campus leaders, and the public about the challenges justice-involved youth face when pursuing higher education, including the challenges associated with financial aid.
“Higher education is a proven stepping stone for people to ascend from the confines of poverty to the economic security of the middle class,” IHEP President Michelle Asha Cooper said in a press release. “Justice-involved men and women are no different. Through this campaign we are elevating awareness and understanding of the challenges these students experience so they are not forgotten.”
The campaign was kicked off with a two-minute video featuring Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), an advocate for justice reform and college affordability, and 25-year-old Alton Pitre, a senior at Morehouse College who was wrongly incarcerated for nearly two years as a young man. The video highlights Pitre’s story and the struggles he continues to face as he focuses on pursuing his college degree, which he started at a community college in California before transferring to Morehouse.
IHEP is recommending that policymakers take several actions that would help remove barriers for justice-involved youth who are pursuing higher education.
“We know that this population faces a number of barriers, particularly when it comes to federal financial aid, that if they were lifted we would be looking at immense opportunities” for postsecondary success, Julie Ajinkya, vice president of applied research at IHEP, said.
One recommendation is to lift the ban on the use of Pell Grants by individuals who are incarcerated in federal and state prisons. Ajinkya, who is heading up #CollegeNotPrison, said that while data on this particular population of students is “woefully inadequate,” data collected for the Second Chance Pell pilot program -- which was created by the Obama administration in July 2015 -- can shed some light on the impact of providing education dollars to incarcerated students.
The program intended to allow about 12,000 incarcerated students to receive Pell Grants through partnerships between the selected colleges and universities and more than 100 federal and state penal institutions. Sixty-seven higher education institutions were selected to participate in the pilot program, of which 29 had started to work with students in the fall of 2016. An additional 33 institutions plan to begin working with students in the spring of 2016, and four are planning to start in the summer of 2017.
IHEP is also recommending that policymakers lift the ban on federal student loans for individuals who are incarcerated, whether they are adults or juveniles, as well as removing the federal financial aid ban on individuals who were charged with drug-related convictions while receiving federal financial aid, which would impact close to 2,000 students. NASFAA has long supported eliminating the tie between student eligibility and drug convictions, specifically by removing the drug conviction question from the FAFSA.
And as the federal government gears up for conversations around the budget, #CollegeNotPrison provides an opportunity to discuss the value of investing in educating students who are or have been incarcerated. According to an infographic created by IHEP for the campaign, every dollar spent on prison education saves taxpayers between $4 and $5 on re-imprisonment costs.
“We constantly drive home the idea that this is a smart investment,” Ajinkya said. “When you compare the numbers, it really becomes obvious that if we invest in educating students who are going to re-enter society that is going to save so much money in terms of corrections spending.”
Publication Date: 3/16/2017