Education department doubles number of Second Chance Pell institutions

More colleges and universities soon will be able to give need-based Pell Grants to incarcerated people looking to further their education while serving their sentences in state and federal prisons. The Department of Education on April 24 announced the expansion of its Second-Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative, which currently includes 63 colleges spanning 26 states.

The department invited 67 additional colleges and universities, including Georgetown University, to participate, bringing the program to 16 additional states and Washington, D.C., according to Inside Higher Ed. The education department selected the schools from a pool of 180 applicants with an eye toward “institutional, programmatic, and geographic diversity.” Twenty-six of the new participants have said they will provide instruction via “innovative and distance delivery methods” or hybrid instructional models. 

Proven results, bipartisan support

Prior to Second Chance Pell’s launch, a crime bill enacted in 1994 had banned prisoners from using Pell Grants to pay for post-secondary education, prompting prisons nationwide to end their education programs. Authorized by the Obama administration in 2015 as a pilot, the Second Chance Pell program enrolled nearly 17,000 people across three years and enabled incarcerated students to earn more than 4,500 credentials, according to the Vera Institute for Justice, which provides technical assistance to colleges and corrections departments participating in Second Chance Pell. 

Related: Will the Second Chance Pell program soon be permanent? >

Education Dive notes that the expansion reflects growing bipartisan support for increasing access to higher education in prisons. “Broader access to college in prison is a strategy that works—to improve safety, strengthen communities, and expand opportunity in our country,” Nick Turner, president of the Vera Institute, said in a statement. “We are thrilled the Department of Education has taken this important step, and Vera remains committed to working with Congress and partners across the spectrum to permanently remove the ban on Pell Grants for people in prison once and for all.”

Related: Georgetown Prison Scholars Program receives $1M Mellon Foundation grant >

“I’ve had the pleasure of visiting several Second Chance Pell institutions and have seen firsthand the transformative impact this experiment has on the lives of individuals who are incarcerated,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement. “By expanding this experiment, we are providing a meaningful opportunity for more students to set themselves up for future success in the workforce.”

Learn how Georgetown University brings together leading scholars, practitioners, and students to examine the problem of mass incarceration from multiple perspectives. Visit the Prisons and Justice Initiative website.

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