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EDUCATION PHILANTHROPY DIVISION OF ASCENDIUM EDUCATION GROUP

Expand Postsecondary Education in Prison

Our philanthropy addresses barriers facing currently incarcerated adults who don’t have equitable access to high-quality postsecondary education.

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How We See the Problem

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the prison population in the U.S. has skyrocketed in recent decades, with one in a hundred adults — about 2.3 million — currently incarcerated. Nearly all of those individuals will return to their communities at some point, and research has demonstrated that postsecondary education dramatically improves the odds of successful reentry into the community and the labor force.

However, access to programs and cost of programs are obstacles, and often the programming is disconnected from career opportunities.

The majority of incarcerated individuals — 64% — have a high school credential. They’re academically eligible for a postsecondary education program; but for most, it’s out of reach. Unfortunately, 93% of colleges don’t provide postsecondary education in prison. Of those that do provide programs, many have limited capacity to serve all interested individuals.

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Ascendium's Approach

An investment priority to...

Develop and scale high-quality postsecondary education in prison delivery models

Means we support...

  • Prioritizing initiatives that increase student access and success while providing opportunity for shared problem solving or idea generation across the field or local systems

Which will lead to...

  • Leveraging technology and innovative program design for learner access and success
  • Expanding postsecondary and career options that are relevant to regional workforce needs
  • Increasing quality in postsecondary education in prison instruction and curricula
  • Increasing the number and percentage of eligible incarcerated learners who enroll and complete

An investment priority to...

Develop a better understanding of incarcerated learners through data and research

Means we support...

  • Building shared data capacity and practical application across programs, institutions and systems
  • Identifying key research priorities and generating new knowledge

Which will lead to...

  • Supporting institution and system partners to develop robust data collection, interpretation and reporting practice across a relevant set of outcomes
  • Enabling trend assessment in incarcerated learner outcomes on state and national levels
  • Generating new knowledge about how to amplify incarcerated learner success

An investment priority to...

Support strategic partnerships between postsecondary education, correction systems, employers and community-based organizations

Means we support...

  • Developing and implementing a vision for increasing systemwide access to a coordinated array of high-quality postsecondary degrees and credentials
  • Developing and implementing a vision for increasing systemwide access to a coordinated array of high-quality postsecondary degrees and credentials
  • Removing institutional barriers to program quality, program accessibility and learner academic and career success

Which will lead to...

  • States developing, implementing or readying systemwide strategies
  • Developing key institutional partnerships
  • Removing prohibitive policies, practices, incapacities and cultural barriers
  • Increasing the number of learners and prison facilities served by high-quality programs

Grants to Expand Postsecondary Education in Prison

Optimizing Delivery Systems for Higher Education in Prison Evaluation

Validation
Second Chance Educational Alliance Inc|$350,000|1/2020 - 12/2023
As part of Ascendium’s Optimizing Delivery Systems for Higher Education in Prison initiative, this grant supports the Second Chance Educational Alliance in evaluating the initiative and synthesizing lessons learned across participating sites.

Increasing Access to Educational Materials in Prisons: Facilitating the Approvals Process

Exploration
Ithaka Harbors Inc|$800,000|10/2020 - 9/2023
This grant supports Ithaka Harbors in developing and making accessible a robust digital educational resource for incarcerated learners, as well as undertaking a major research initiative that will inform institutional change across the postsecondary education in prison field. The goal of the project is to leverage technology to increase learner success, while improving instruction and curricula.

Expanding Access to Postsecondary Pathways in Louisiana State Prisons

Exploration
Operation Restoration|$650,000|6/2020 - 5/2023
This grant supports Operation Restoration in the planning and implementation of a bachelor’s degree program that will leverage technology to support incarcerated students in multiple facilities across the Louisiana state prison system. The organization will also pilot an innovative advising model that trains students with long-term sentences as academic advisors.

Transforming Higher Education Policy and Practice in Prisons and Beyond

Exploration
The Education Trust Inc|$815,000|5/2020 - 4/2022
This grant supports the Education Trust in developing two distinct but interconnected leadership development programs that will engage formerly incarcerated learners and postsecondary education in prison practitioners in an intentional learning exchange, producing nuanced reports and analysis and informing improvements to institutional practice.

Unlocking the Promise of Pell for Students in Prison

Scaling
Vera Institute of Justice Inc|$1,100,000|4/2020 - 3/2022
This grant supports Vera Institute of Justice in providing meaningful and in-depth technical assistance, training and advising to new and existing Second Chance Pell Initiative college sites and their state corrections system partners. The goal is to ensure the implementation of high-quality postsecondary education in prison and to help the field grow a cohort of correctional administrators prepared to support the broad expansion of such programs.

Thrive Technical Assistance Program

Exploration
The College and Community Fellowship Inc|$733,510|1/2020 - 12/2021
This grant supports College and Community Fellowship in increasing their capacity to provide in-depth technical assistance to higher education institutions and organizations seeking to implement evidence-based, student success components that are uniquely designed to meet the needs of learners transitioning from prison to a traditional campus setting.

Career Navigator Initiative

Validation
RAND Corporation|$495,696|1/2018 - 12/2021
This grant supports RAND Corporation in assessing the implementation of the Minnesota Department of Corrections (MNDOC) Career Navigator Initiative. RAND will analyze MNDOC's development and implementation of services, take-rate of Career Navigator services, and students’ success in finding related employment or continuing college after release.

Credit for Experience: Leveraging Prior Learning Assessments in Prison

Exploration
Reentry Campus Program|$200,014|5/2020 - 11/2021
This grant supports Reentry Campus Program in refining their program delivery model to increase the meaningful use of prior learning assessments and wraparound services for incarcerated students in Rhode Island. Setting the stage for broad dissemination, the organization will work to codify the program design, cost structure and associated student outcomes.

Higher Education in Prison Landscape Project

Exploration
Alliance for Higher Education in Prison|$925,000|7/2019 - 6/2021
This grant supports the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison in building a national database of higher education in prison programs and associated data.

Teaching and Learning Initiative

Exploration
Prison University Project Inc|$958,700|7/2018 - 6/2021
This grant supports the Prison University Project (PUP) in developing and implementing trauma-informed teaching practices in prison-based college programming and assessing their impact. The grant will also enable PUP to develop and disseminate training materials based on the lessons learned.

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