Roughly 12,000 Incarcerated Students Will Be Pell Eligible Under ED's Second Chance Pilot Program

By Janette Martinez, NASFAA 2016 DME Policy Intern

On Friday, the Department of Education (ED) announced that 67 colleges and universities have been selected to participate in the new Second Chance Pell pilot program under the experimental sites authority of section 487A(b) of the Higher Education Act (HEA). First announced in July 2015, the pilot program will test if participation in high-quality education programs increases after expanding access to financial aid for incarcerated individuals. The program will 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.

According to the Department’s announcement, participating institutions may provide Pell Grants to qualified students who are incarcerated and are likely to be released within five years of enrolling in education and training programs. Selected schools can begin offering coursework as soon as July 1.

A majority of the schools, mostly public two- and four-year institutions, will offer classroom-based instruction at corrections facilities. Other institutions will offer either online education or a hybrid of classroom and online instruction. More than 10 percent of the participating schools are Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), and approximately 37 percent of schools will offer prison-based education for the first time.

The Second Chance Pell pilot program is part of the Obama administration’s efforts to promote “alternatives to incarceration and eliminate unnecessary barriers to reentry.” The Secretary of Education will use experimental sites authority to waive a 1994 Higher Education Act (HEA) amendment that made incarcerated students ineligible to receive Pell Grants. The resulting evidence from this program will be used to inform improvements in policies and processes in federal student aid.

Basis for Selection

The Second Chance Pell pilot program received interest from over 200 colleges and universities. The finalists were selected based on their partnerships, robust student services, focus on reentry, and affordability. The selected sites demonstrated strong partnerships between the postsecondary and correctional institutions, which will help facilitate high-quality educational programs, strong academic and career support services, and reentry support.

The sites selected provide robust academic, career, and social support services. Many of the sites already work with community-based organizations and nonprofit organizations that support successful reentry. All of the pilot sites will provide counseling or guidance to potential students to help them complete the FAFSA.

The selected sites also demonstrated a focus on supporting successful reentry. Examples of successful reentry support included providing targeted training to inmates based on the local labor market or through education programs that prepare inmates to continue their postsecondary education.

Finally, many of the postsecondary institutions selected have shown of a focus on college affordability by making institutional aid available for students during and after incarceration and supporting students in applying for available state-based aid.


Publication Date: 6/27/2016

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