By Owen Daugherty and Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporters
The Department of Education (ED) negotiated rulemaking subcommittee on prison education programs (PEP) resumed Monday, as higher education stakeholders convened to review ED’s amended regulatory text on how PEPs will operate based on the subcommittee’s first set of recommendations.
Subcommittee members are tasked with discussing and working on several definitions related to the program’s administration and participant eligibility. ED will use those recommendations to shape its regulatory framework, which subcommittee members will present to the full committee next month.
This week is the final time the subcommittee will gather, with the goal of drafting final amendatory language to share with the full committee by Wednesday. Structured like a working group, negotiators were reminded that the subcommittee has few powers and is intended only to provide recommendations to the full committee.
Monday’s session largely focused on some of the more technical aspects of the regulatory text, such as definitions of a PEP and eligible programs that institutions can offer.
Stanley Andrisse, an assistant professor at Howard University’s School of Medicine and a negotiator who is part of the subcommittee, asked ED officials for clarification on whether students under a civil commitment or confinement, such as those convicted of a drug or sex offense, would be barred from receiving a federal Pell Grant under the new amendatory language.
Aaron Washington, ED’s subcommittee leader, said those individuals would not be considered incarcerated for the purpose of a PEP, and another ED official said the department would follow up and further clarify whether those individuals are eligible for Title IV aid.
A temperature check on the definition of a confined or incarcerated individual did not bring tentative agreement, as Andrisse said he was awaiting further clarification from ED on the issues he raised.
Negotiators also did not come to tentative agreement on ED’s amended regulatory text regarding language that stated PEPs must be operated by institutions where no more than 25% of enrolled students are incarcerated.
Significant discussion also focused on stipulations in the law allowing for incarcerated individuals to be eligible for the Pell Grant that state incarcerated students are only eligible for the Pell Grant if they enroll in an eligible PEP, meaning those enrolled in other college programs not defined as a PEP wouldn’t be eligible to receive the federal aid.
Andrisse noted that type of language means the reality is that it is not "Pell for all," underscoring the importance of ensuring incarcerated students understand the importance of enrolling through Pell-eligible PEPs.
“We're defining the prison education programs so tightly because we're concerned with quality and other guardrails that we're actually making it not very inclusive at all,” he said.
A temperature check on the student eligibility portion did not bring a tentative agreement among negotiators due to the reasons Andrisse raised.
Conversations continued over a host of program definitions in which negotiators sought clarity from ED on which regulations were based on departmental statute and which could be amended through the agency’s interpretation.
In reviewing the agenda’s proposed language, negotiators only recorded a single negative temperature check that had to do with members wanting to discuss the definitions under consideration throughout other parts of the agenda.
Kim Cary of Ozarks Technical Community College and a negotiator for financial aid administrators encouraged ED to hold institutions accountable by requiring their applications to disclose satisfactory information. She encouraged ED to develop language tying Pell Grant disbursement to a student’s entrance counseling, well before a given program begins, so that students are not taken advantage of by institutions looking to exploit their aid.
Cary also urged ED to amend language to make requests in reference to “business days,” as opposed to currently drafted “calendar days,” to better comply with institutional timeframes.
The committee will reconvene on Tuesday to discuss definitions housed under “an institution that offers an eligible prison education program,” as well as feedback from negotiators on what those programs must be able to provide for students.
Stay tuned to Today’s News for more coverage of the subcommittee work and get caught up with the 2021 negotiated rulemaking process with NASFAA’s recap articles.
Publication Date: 11/9/2021