Education Department finalizes new rules for prison education programs

Last Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education released new rules for colleges preparing prison education programs, anticipating a dramatic expansion when more incarcerated students become eligible for federal Pell Grants next summer, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. Congress restored access to Pell Grants for incarcerated people in December 2020, reversing a ban that was part of the 1994 Crime Bill. The Vera Institute for Justice estimates around 760,000 incarcerated people are expected to be eligible to apply for Pell Grants for the 2023-24 academic year, according to the Chronicle.

Related: Increasing college access for currently, formerly incarcerated students >

When the new prison-education initiative takes effect in July 2023, all incarcerated people enrolled in accredited prison education programs who demonstrate financial need and have a high school diploma or its equivalent will be able to access Pell Grants, regardless of the length of their sentence or nature of their conviction. The initiative will replace the Obama-era Second Chance Pell Experiment program, which has helped incarcerated students access Pell Grants to earn a certificate, diploma, or college degree since its authorization in 2015.

Related: Georgetown welcomes incarcerated students to Maryland bachelor’s degree program >

New rules for prison education programs

Based on the Department of Education’s finalization of the new prison-education policy, colleges and universities preparing to enroll new incarcerated students should follow four major provisions, the Chronicle reports. Those rules include: 

  1. Colleges must submit their prison education programs for approval from accrediting bodies; the U.S. Department of Education; and federal, state, and other agencies that oversee correctional facilities where the programs are offered.
  2. Credits earned with Pell Grants must be transferable to at least one other institution, and prison education programs that offer certification or licensure for employment must adhere to state and licensing requirements.
  3. Correctional agencies must consider input from organizations representing incarcerated people in determining whether prison education courses serve the best interests of incarcerated students. Local, state, and federal agencies may also be consulted. 
  4. Colleges must collect data to monitor the effectiveness of their prison education programs and provide their assessment to the Education Department.


Georgetown’s credit-bearing prison education program

Learn more about the Prison Scholars Program, which brings higher education opportunities to students incarcerated in D.C. and Maryland.

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