Ascendium Education Group is announcing Ready for Pell, a two-year, $4.7 million strategic initiative to strengthen emerging postsecondary education in prison programs ahead of the restoration of Pell Grants in the 2023-24 academic year for learners who are incarcerated.
Through Ready for Pell, Ascendium will provide grants of up to $125,000 each to newly established postsecondary education in prison programs, or systems representing multiple institutions, in states that are actively coordinating at a systems level across multiple institutional and agency partners.
The July 2023 restoration of Pell Grant eligibility for people currently incarcerated presents a unique moment in time to strengthen and support quality in postsecondary programs in preparation for the tens of thousands of new students eager to enroll. People who participate in college-in-prison programs are far more likely to find stable, family-supporting employment after their release and far less likely to return to prison.
To make the most of its Ready for Pell investment, Ascendium has named Jobs for the Future (JFF) as the intermediary grant partner. JFF, a national nonprofit that drives change in American workforce and education systems to achieve economic advancement for all, will release a request for proposals for interested programs to apply, with grants to be awarded later this year. JFF will also convene a Ready for Pell advisory board of leaders from the field and select, support and work with an independent evaluator to gather insights from the participating sites.
“Ascendium hopes to capitalize on this time-sensitive opportunity to help emerging programs ensure they’re providing high-quality education and beneficial results for learners as they scale up their programs,” said Amy Kerwin, Ascendium’s vice president — education philanthropy. “For these recently established programs planning to leverage Pell as a new funding source, now is a critical time to build a strong foundation for supporting students and ensuring quality.”
JFF has substantial experience supporting postsecondary education in prison. It has provided technical assistance to Second Chance Pell grantees through its Improved Reentry Education program and Juvenile Justice Reentry Education Projects with the U.S. Department of Education.
“We are excited to bring the depth of JFF’s significant work in advancing postsecondary attainment and our extensive experience working with people who are incarcerated to an opportunity that’s long overdue,” said Lucretia Murphy, J.D., Ph.D., JFF’s Senior Director leading the project. “The outcomes from this initiative have the potential to scale and transform postsecondary education for learners who are incarcerated, benefitting those individuals, their future employers, and the public at large.”
According to the Vera Institute for Justice’s 2019 report, Investing in Futures, 64% of people incarcerated in state and federal prisons would be academically eligible for postsecondary education and 463,000 of them would be eligible for Pell Grants. Meanwhile, only 9% of people who are incarcerated have completed a postsecondary program while in prison and only 7% of the nation’s degree-granting colleges and universities provide higher education in prison.
Expanding postsecondary education in prison is one of Ascendium's four grantmaking focus areas. We work in this area by supporting the implementation of new practices and scaling what's been proven to work, building a body of evidence through research and evaluation and supporting strong multi-sector partnerships across entire states.