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|
|Asnuntuck Community College||540|
|Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania||30|
|Calhoun Community College||110|
|California State University Los Angeles||30|
|Cedar Valley College||120|
|Chaffey Community College||167|
|Chemeketa Community College||186|
|Connors State College||225|
|CUNY Hostos Community College||435 across CUNY|
|CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice||435 across CUNY|
|Danville Community College||138|
|Florida Gateway College||50|
|Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College||45|
|Glenville State College||215|
|Holy Cross College||100|
|Indiana University of Pennsylvania||30|
|Ingram State Technical College||426|
|Iowa Central Community College||314|
|Lamar State College -- Port Arthur||243|
|Lehigh Carbon Community College||30|
|Marymount Manhattan College||98|
|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|
|Pine Technical and Community College||30|
|Quinebaug Valley Community College||60|
|Rappahannock Community College||49|
|Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey||598|
|Seattle Central Community College||63|
|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|
|Wor-Wic Community College||60|