Center for American Progress

RELEASE: How Colleges and Universities Can Offer Pell Grant-Funded Programs to Incarcerated Students
Press Release

RELEASE: How Colleges and Universities Can Offer Pell Grant-Funded Programs to Incarcerated Students

Washington, D.C. — For more than 25 years, federal law has forbidden people in prison from using Pell Grants to pay for college. However, after a long, hard fight by a wide range of advocates as well as currently and formerly incarcerated students, Congress changed the law in late 2020 to give incarcerated people a second chance at a college education.

A new report released today by the Center for American Progress details the U.S. Department of Education’s plan to expand higher education programming and funding to incarcerated people, offers a guide to the proposed prison education program (PEP) approval process, and raises questions about the process that current draft regulatory proposals do not address. While the new PEP process may not be finalized until November 2022 at the earliest, stakeholders such as colleges, accreditors, and corrections agencies can take steps now to ensure that college programming funded by Pell Grants becomes available to incarcerated students as soon as possible. Once implemented, as many as 463,000 Pell Grant-eligible incarcerated people could stand to benefit from this new program.

“Planning for the PEP approval process will be critical for the success of the program,” said Jared C. Bass, senior director for Higher Education at CAP. “Building relationships among colleges, accrediting agencies, and corrections agencies will ensure that affordable, high-quality college education can finally be within reach for incarcerated students.”

The report outlines the following four steps for colleges and universities to complete before accepting Pell Grants from incarcerated students:

  1. Create higher education programs that meet the new requirements or adapt existing programs to the new requirements.
  2. Get approval from their institutional accrediting agency.
  3. Get approval from the entity that oversees the correctional facility where the program will be offered, such as the Federal Bureau of Prisons or a state corrections agency.
  4. Get approval from the Education Department.

Read the report: “How Colleges and Universities Can Bring Pell Grant-Funded Programs Back to Prisons” by Bradley D. Custer

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Tricia Woodcome at twoodcome@americanprogress.org.