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Expand Postsecondary Education in Prison

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

A formerly incarcerated person operating a forklift.

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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Graph showing: 64% of the people in prison are academically eligible to enroll in a postsecondary education program. Graph showing: Of the approximately 4500 degree-granting colleges and universities, less than 7% provide in-prison higher education

Ready for Pell

This two-year initiative is designed to support and strengthen postsecondary education in prison programs in advance of the full restoration of Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated learners, coming in the 2023-24 academic year.

Our Three Investment Priorities

Grants to Expand Postsecondary Education in Prison

Increasing Opportunities for Justice-Impacted Learners

The Education Trust Inc|$1,157,500|11/2023 - 10/2025
This grant supports The Education Trust in delivering a fellowship program focused on building a cohort of formerly incarcerated college graduates who can serve as field leaders and are equipped to inform and strengthen policy and research regarding postsecondary education in prison.

Leveraging NCAN Members to Increase Success for Incarcerated Learners

National College Attainment Network|$600,000|10/2023 - 9/2025
This grant supports the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) in developing technical assistance for its members tailored to postsecondary education in prison. With its support, more NCAN members will partner with postsecondary education in prison programs to deliver supportive services to incarcerated learners.

Formerly Incarcerated Leaders Fellowship

Rockwood Leadership Institute|$938,239|8/2023 - 8/2025
This grant supports Rockwood Leadership Institute in developing and piloting a professional learning cohort for formerly incarcerated leaders working within the field of postsecondary education in prison.

Implementing an Evaluability Assessment

Reentry Campus Program|$250,000|12/2022 - 8/2025
This grant supports Reentry Campus Program in continuing to strengthen its core programming aimed at helping incarcerated and formerly incarcerated learners identify a career path, gain college credit and complete degrees and certificates. The grant also supports their capacity to work with an external evaluator to define their unique program model and lay the groundwork for future evaluation.

State Policy Barriers for Students Impacted by the Justice System

Education Commission of the States|$398,101|8/2023 - 4/2025
This grant supports Education Commission of the States in addressing state-level policy gaps and opportunities to strengthen postsecondary education in prison. Its convenings, reports and policy monitoring will inform and encourage state action supportive of incarcerated learners.

Planning for a Center for Prison Education Research and Leadership

University of Utah|$750,000|7/2023 - 12/2024
This grant supports the University of Utah in planning the design and launch of a research center focused on postsecondary education in prisons. The proposed center will serve as a national hub for defining critical evidence gaps and advancing rigorous research to inform the design, evaluation and improvement of postsecondary education programs for incarcerated learners.

Helping the Field Prepare for Pell Reinstatement

Vera Institute of Justice Inc|$1,400,000|12/2022 - 12/2024
This grant supports Vera Institute of Justice in providing technical assistance, training and advising to new and existing Second Chance Pell college sites and their state corrections system partners. The goal of these activities is to ensure the implementation of high-quality postsecondary education in prison and to help the field prepare for the full restoration of Pell Grants for incarcerated learners on July 1, 2023.

Preparing for Pell Grant Eligibility for Incarcerated Learners

National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators|$551,125|4/2023 - 9/2024
This grant supports the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators in providing technical support to financial aid offices preparing for the return of Pell grant eligibility for incarcerated learners.

Catalyzing Technical Assistance for Postsecondary Education in Prison

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign|$300,000|9/2023 - 8/2024
This grant supports the Education Justice Project at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in refining and distributing resources that help incarcerated learners transition from prison classrooms to free-world campuses and meaningful employment.

Ready for Pell

Jobs for the Future Inc|$4,984,528|9/2021 - 7/2024
This grant supports Jobs for the Future Inc (JFF) in leading Ascendium’s Ready for Pell initiative, including identifying and selecting high-capacity postsecondary education providers; surfacing and disseminating best practices; and providing technical assistance to enable institutions to implement best practices. JFF will also manage the third-party evaluation and share lessons from the initiative to inform efforts to scale access to Pell in prison settings.

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