By Owen Daugherty and Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporters
Higher education stakeholders focused on developing language that would aim to expand educational opportunities for incarcerated students during a negotiated rulemaking subcommittee session that began on Monday.
In opening remarks to the Prison Education Programs Subcommittee, Department of Education (ED) Under Secretary James Kvaal highlighted the department's efforts to overhaul regulations that will improve higher education outcomes for this student population.
“Students who are incarcerated cannot necessarily vote with their feet. It is far more difficult to simply choose a different program, if the one in their local facility is not high quality, than it is for other students,” Kvaal said. “That means getting these rules right for students is critical, because we have a heightened need here, recognized by Congress, to ensure that all these programs are high quality programs.”
Structured like a working group, the goal of the subcommittee is to provide recommendations to the main committee, which will vote on the package developed by the subcommittee at the end of its October 18-20 session.
During the morning session, ED sought input from subcommittee members on a number of definitions related to the program’s administration and participant eligibility.
“Throughout this process, we hope to ensure that the implementation of Pell reinstatement for incarcerated students is done in a way that provides meaningful quality opportunities that are offered in students’ best interests,” Kvaal said. “I want to emphasize that we enter these sessions with an open mind, and the issue papers are a point of departure in conversation. We look forward to refining that based upon your expertise.”
Much of the afternoon session focused on the outcomes that ED will measure to determine if programs are operating in the best interest of the students, as is required by statute.
The metrics include rates of incarcerated individuals continuing their education post release, job placement rates, post-release earnings , and rates of recidivism.
Stanley Andrisse, assistant professor at Howard University’s School of Medicine, noted how formerly incarcerated individuals face obstacles in getting quality paying jobs once they leave and stressed the importance of taking into consideration the oppression and discrimination those with criminal convictions face upon reentering society.
“We need to be factoring the collateral consequences of incarceration into the metrics and indicators and benchmarks that we create,” he said.
Further, other subcommittee members raised concerns regarding who would be tracking these metrics, pointing out the disparity in resources some institutions face in attempting to launch a prison education program.
“This is going to place a huge burden on programs,” said Terrance McTier Jr., director of Washington University’s Prison Education Project. “Having this language in there as a requirement for higher education institutions to collect — that is going to be problematic.”
The subcommittee will reconvene Tuesday morning to continue discussion of the metrics, beginning with job placement rates.
Andrisse and others also expressed displeasure with the state departments of corrections being involved with the accreditation process for prison education programs.
The state department of corrections “was not created, designed, or meant to oversee education,” he said. “If involved, they should not be the primary overseer."
Stay tuned to Today’s News as we cover developments over conversation at the subcommittee level, as well as other timely updates about the negotiated rulemaking’s upcoming public comment period.
Publication Date: 10/19/2021
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