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The Obama administration has chosen 67 colleges and universities for a pilot program that will offer Pell Grants to incarcerated students.

The program, called Second Chance Pell, will enroll 12,000 prisoners at more than 100 correctional institutions across the country. It’s geared toward prisoners likely to be released within the next five years.

“This belief in second chances is fundamental to who we are as Americans,” John King Jr., the education secretary, said in a call with reporters Thursday.

In some locations, the program will begin as early as July 1. Most of the colleges chosen will offer classes in person at the correctional facilities, while some will offer online classes. Many also plan to offer a range of support services and tailor their instruction to local labor markets.

The program has been in the works since last summer, when the Obama administration first announced the idea. By October, more than 200 colleges and universities had expressed interest in the program.

The 67 finalists are a mix of two-year and four-year institutions from across the country. King said that the institutions were reviewed holistically: student recruitment, student success and compliance with student aid programs all played a role in the decision process.

Critics argue that the program goes beyond the Obama administration’s authority. Most prisoners have been ineligible for Pell Grants since the U.S. Congress banned the aid in 1994.

“That ban remains in place until Congress acts,” King said. “We are using our experimental authority under the Higher Education Act to support this pilot.”

King is referring to the “experimental sites” authority, which allows the Education Department to waive certain federal rules for the benefit of experimentation.

The Education Department’s argument is also financial: investing in prisoner education saves money in incarceration costs. King cited a study from the RAND Corporation that prisoner education advocates tend to point to: for every dollar invested in prison education, four to five dollars are saved on reincarceration costs.

“Second Chance Pell will allow us to measure the costs and benefits of this approach,” he said.

While the new program is a “step in the right direction,” he added, “it’s not the entire solution.” He said that more institutions would likely express interest if Congress restored broad Pell access -- or if the Obama administration’s 2017 budget goes through. But while the budget expands Pell Grants for prisoners beyond the bounds of the pilot program, it’s a largely symbolic proposal.

King also emphasized that the program, which will not affect any other Pell awardees, is only a small part of the overall Pell budget -- “less than one tenth of 1 percent of total Pell spending.”

The list of colleges was announced as part of a series of education and jobs programs, all focused on helping former prisoners re-enter their communities and find work.

“Many of the people that we’re trying to help frankly haven't had a fair first chance,” Thomas Perez, the labor secretary, told reporters Thursday. “People with a criminal record have remarkable potential, and it’s up to us to unlock that potential."

Selected Institutions Pell-eligible students to be reached in ’16-’17
Alvin Community College 380
Anne Arundel Community College 24
Arkansas State University -- Newport 150
Ashland University 1,040
Asnuntuck Community College 540
Auburn University 20
Bard College 228
Bennington College 56
Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania 30
Calhoun Community College 110
California State University Los Angeles 30
Cedar Valley College 120
Centralia College 12
Chaffey Community College 167
Chemeketa Community College 186
Clarendon College 100
Columbia College 95
Connors State College 225
Cuesta College 265
CUNY Hostos Community College 435 across CUNY
CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice 435 across CUNY
Danville Community College 138
Delta College 15
Florida Gateway College 50
Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College 45
Glenville State College 215
Goucher College 100
Holy Cross College 100
Indiana University of Pennsylvania 30
Ingram State Technical College 426
Iowa Central Community College 314
Jackson College 1,305
Lamar State College -- Port Arthur 243
Langston University 10
Lee College 1,134
Lehigh Carbon Community College 30
Marymount Manhattan College 98
Mercy College 115
Metropolitan Community College 30
Middlesex Community College 51
Milwaukee Area Technical College 250
Mott Community College 155
Mount Wachusett Community College 72
Mountain View College 40
North Country Community College 129
North Park University 16
Northeastern Technical College 180
Nyack College 105
Pine Technical and Community College 30
Quinebaug Valley Community College 60
Rappahannock Community College 49
Roosevelt University 70
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey 598
Seattle Central Community College 63
Shorter College 250
South Central College 25
Southwest Texas Junior College 142
Southwestern Community College District 25
Tacoma Community College 60
Three Rivers Community College 150
Tulsa Community College 44
University of Baltimore 25
University of Houston -- Clear Lake 85
University of Maine -- Augusta 25
Villanova University 25
Wiley College 300
Wor-Wic Community College 60

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