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New Guide for Accreditors Assessing Colleges in Prisons

October 14, 2022

A new guidebook, released Thursday, aims to help accreditors, and administrators and professors involved in the accreditation process, to better evaluate college-in-prison programs.

The guide, the first of its kind, was produced by the Vera Institute of Justice, a criminal justice research and advocacy organization, and the Higher Learning Commission, an accrediting body. It comes at a time when the Pell Grant is on the cusp of being reallowed for use by incarcerated students, starting next year. The Vera Institute estimates that more than 760,000 people in prison will be eligible to receive Pell Grants, according to a press release from the organization. But with the new funds also come heightened concerns that low-quality programs may seek to enroll these students for Pell dollars, an issue the guide was created to address.

The guidebook covers a range of possible accreditation issues including the logistics of arranging site visits at prisons, how to ensure these programs offer proper academic supports, how to assess whether the technology and facilities available are adequate, and, more broadly, how to ensure institutions comply with the proposed federal regulations for college programs in prisons.

The goal is to offer “insights into academic quality assurance within a specific context—correctional facilities—and encourages accreditors to operationalize those insights for their peer reviewers and decision-making bodies,” the guide notes.

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Sara Weissman

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