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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.

See Grants in This Focus Area
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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...

Implement new practices and scale proven high-quality postsecondary education in prison models

Means we support...

  • Existing efforts that increase student access and success at scale
  • Addressing common challenges through new approaches or solutions

Which will lead to...

  • Increasing innovative program design and new ways of delivering instruction and student supports 
  • Increasing employer partnerships and career pathways that are relevant to regional workforce needs 
  • Increasing quality in postsecondary education in prison instruction and curricula
  • Increasing the number and percentage of incarcerated learners who enroll in and complete their program of study

An investment priority to...

Develop a better understanding of incarcerated learners through data and research

Means we support...

  • Building practical applications and shared data capacity in 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 practices 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
  • Removing barriers to program quality, accessibility and learner academic and career success through systemwide collaboration

Which will lead to...

  • States developing, implementing or readying systemwide strategies
  • Developing interconnectivity, communication and partnerships across agencies, systems and organizations
  • Removing prohibitive policies, practices, incapacities and cultural barriers imposed by systems
  • Increasing the number of learners and prison facilities served by high-quality programs

Grants to Expand Postsecondary Education in Prison

Career Navigator Initiative

Validation
The 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.

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.

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.

Optimizing Delivery Systems for Higher Education in Prison

Exploration
Iowa Department of Education|$150,000|1/2020 - 8/2021
This grant supports the Iowa Department of Education, in partnership with the Iowa Department of Corrections, Iowa Central Community College, Des Moines Area Community College and the University of Iowa, in developing a plan for expanded postsecondary education options across Iowa that are workforce-relevant and support varied academic and career pathways.

Higher Education in Prison Landscape Project

Exploration
Alliance for Higher Education in Prison|$925,000|7/2019 - 8/2021
This grant supports the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison in building a national database of higher education in prison programs and associated data.

Optimizing Delivery Systems for Higher Education in Prison

Exploration
CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance|$150,000|1/2020 - 6/2021
This grant supports City University of New York’s Institute for State and Local Governance, in partnership with the New York State Department of Corrections & Community Supervision, in bringing together key stakeholders to coordinate and align the educational offerings of 47 college and vocational programs operating across 30 prisons to eliminate programmatic gaps, increase transferability and ensure broad access to high quality postsecondary education across New York facilities.

Teaching and Learning Initiative

Exploration
Mount Tamalpais College|$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.

Alliance for Higher Education in Prison Capacity Building

Exploration
Alliance for Higher Education in Prison|$300,000|6/2018 - 5/2021
This grant supports the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison as it works toward a 501(c)(3) designation, hires core staff, builds infrastructure, solidifies key partnerships and develops three primary strategic focus areas: programmatic support, resource and information sharing, and research and data.

Optimizing Delivery Systems for Higher Education in Prison

Exploration
State of Minnesota Department of Corrections|$150,000|1/2020 - 4/2021
This grant supports Minnesota Department of Corrections, in partnership with the "Just Education" Collaborative at the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota, Inver Hills Community College/Dakota County Technical College and Augsburg University, in preparing to launch their “College at Prison” effort to reimagine postsecondary education offerings across all prison facilities in Minnesota.

Career Navigator Initiative

Exploration
State of Minnesota Department of Corrections|$1,692,430|1/2018 - 12/2020
This grant supports the Minnesota Department of Corrections in increasing access to high-quality career and technical education for incarcerated students at four prisons in Minnesota. New certification (OSHA and Forklift) and training (Heavy Equipment Operation) opportunities will be combined with advising to help students obtain gainful employment post-release.

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