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Approval Process for Pell-Eligible Prison Education Programs Gets a Detailed Preview

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter

With the impending restoration of Pell Grants for incarcerated individuals becoming closer to a reality through congressional and regulatory actions, higher education stakeholders ranging from colleges and accreditors to corrections agencies and the Department of Education (ED) will need to begin preparations to ensure the programming expansion reaches eligible students.

A new report from the Center for American Progress tracks the regulatory changes made through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 — which restored Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated students who were previously restricted from accessing grants due to a 1994 ban — seeking to provide those respective higher education stakeholders with details as to how they can go about obtaining approval to administer Pell Grants to individuals in prison.

The report was published just before ED announced that the third round of its Second Chance Pell Experiment will make a total of 200 institutions of higher education eligible to participate.

Back in December, negotiators from the Affordability and Student Loans negotiated rulemaking committee reached consensus on an issue paper focused on Prison Education Programs. While the final regulations have yet to be published, the agreed upon draft language enables schools to explore potential frameworks for their programs.

Based on the consensus language, the report written by Bradley Custer, a senior policy analyst at Center for American Progress, offers four key approval steps that schools will need to take in order to obtain program approval.

“NASFAA applauds the latest expansion of the Second Chance Pell Experiment that will extend postsecondary opportunity to more incarcerated students as the Department of Education and the higher education community prepare to fully implement the reinstatement of Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated students in July of 2023,” said Rachel Gentry, director of government relations at NASFAA. “This week's announcement also brings a welcome ‘fresh start’ that will ease the burden of resolving loans in default. Allowing incarcerated students with defaulted loans to return to good standing will alleviate what has been a significant barrier during Second Chance Pell, ensuring students receive Pell Grants for which they are eligible as part of the experiment and once Pell eligibility is fully restored.”

Once the notice of proposed rulemaking is released, there will be one more opportunity to submit comments to ED prior to the release of the final rule.

According to the report, as many as 463,000 Pell Grant-eligible incarcerated individuals could stand to benefit from the new program.

“It is not clear how long the entire PEP approval process could take. There is no language in the draft text to suggest that each party should act expeditiously or on a specified deadline,” Custer writes. “For colleges, therefore, now is the time to begin consulting with accrediting agencies and oversight entities about their plans.”

 

Publication Date: 4/28/2022


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