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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.

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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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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.

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

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.

Ensuring High Quality Higher Education in Prison Programs

Institute for Higher Education Policy|$1,903,426|6/2018 - 10/2020
This grant supports the Institute for Higher Education Policy in developing a set of key performance indicators for higher education in prison that will help practitioners use data strategically to improve programs and promote student success.

Supporting the Success of the Second Chance Pell Program in Five States

Vera Institute of Justice Inc|$180,000|6/2018 - 11/2019
This grant supports the Vera Institute of Justice in its work at eight college prison programs to pinpoint priority improvement areas and develop plans for a two-year technical assistance engagement aimed at helping programs move more students toward degree completion, connect to reentry pathways and obtain employment.

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