Four PA Colleges to Receive Federal Grants Under Pilot Program to Provide Inmate Access to Higher Education Degree Programs

June 24, 2016

Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf today announced that four Pennsylvania institutions of higher learning were among those selected to participate in a national pilot program to allow inmates to access post-secondary education with the goal of helping them get jobs and support families when they are released.

“More than 90 percent of the 48,000 individuals behind bars in Pennsylvania will leave prison one day,” said Governor Wolf. “It’s no secret that achieving basic literacy and completing high school are positive indicators of future success and reduced recidivism. Having a college degree or certificate in hand will give those individuals an even greater chance for successful reintegration and to become productive members of society. I thank the incredible institutions of higher learning who’ve partnered with us in this effort.”

Four Pennsylvania schools – Bloomsburg University, Lehigh Carbon Community College, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Villanova University – were among 67 colleges and universities awarded federal grants under the U.S. Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell pilot program.

The awards will provide funding for 115 inmates at six correctional institutions to access college degree or certificate programs at the participating schools.

The $30 million Pell pilot program is designed to test whether participation in high quality education programs increases after expanding access to financial aid for incarcerated individuals.

“With 20,000 individuals leaving our institutions every year the DOC has placed a heavy focus on reentry and removing barriers to reentry,” said Corrections Secretary John Wetzel. “For the last 22 years, college education was out of reach for most inmates who had to cover the costs themselves. Through this partnership with participating colleges and universities we can expand access to high quality education programs that will give individuals the skills they need to become tax payers rather than tax burdens.”

A 1994 Congressional change to the federal Higher Education Act eliminated Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals in federal and state prisons. But the act gives the U.S. Department of Education secretary the authority to waive existing financial aid rules for experimental programs.

“This historic decision will have a lasting, positive impact on both the individuals in our correctional facilities and the commonwealth as a whole,” said Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera. “This opportunity will provide individuals with the tools they need to have a fresh start upon re-entry to society, and I congratulate the Pennsylvania colleges and universities for their partnership and progressiveness on this issue.”

A 2013 study from the RAND Corporation, funded by the Department of Justice, found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who did not participate in any correctional education programs. RAND also estimated that for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, four to five dollars are saved on three-year re-incarceration costs.

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