Grantee Spotlight: Pell Grants for College in Prison Programs

Posted on July 15, 2016

Innovative college-in-prison programs have recently been awarded Second Chance Pell Grants, becoming part of a federal pilot program to sponsor prison education. As reported by the Washington Post, “as many as 12,000 prison inmates will be able to use federal Pell grants to finance college classes next month… The Obama administration selected 67 colleges and Universities” to qualify for the experimental funding.

While robust support for these programs used to exist in the US, prisoners were made ineligible applicants for Pell Grants in 1994. The success and advocacy of the network of college in prison programs since then has helped lead to the new Second Chance pilot program. These initiatives offer classes to prison inmates, allowing them to work towards and receive Bachelor’s or Associate’s degrees. In many cases, students will begin their degree with these courses, and then transfer to the main campus of the college upon their release to finish their degree.

As part of our Programs for the Incarcerated Population focus area, the Weissberg Foundation has supported three colleges that stand as leaders in prison education programming in the US: We are proud to announce that all three of our grantee partners have been invited to participate in the federal pilot program!

  • The Goucher Prison Education Partnership (GPEP): Goucher College works at a complex in Jessup, MD, and their work has played a large part in the institution of the new Second Chance Pell Grants; GPEP hosted members of President Obama’s cabinet last July, and their program was featured in the Washington Post coverage of the Pell pilot announcement.
  • Bard College’s Prison Initiative (BPI): The Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison, hosted by Bard College, will continue to gather partners and push this important and historic movement forward.
  • Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education (CPE): Wesleyan has acted as a trailblazer in their region as well as in this movement, and the new Pell Grant funding is allowing an even greater expansion across Connecticut, as covered here.

College education for prisoners has proven to greatly reduce recidivism, as well as improve relationships and behavior within the prisons themselves. Furthermore, as CPE reports, “the benefits of college-in-prison extend beyond the enrolled students themselves as college provides them with a new opportunity to serve as positive role models for their families and home communities.” We are excited to see where this new investment in prison education will take programs and students across the country, as well as to have been a supporter of this step towards more accessible higher education.

Want to get involved?

Check out this map to find a Second Chance Pell Grant Program in your area!