Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project

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The Pathways Project is a five-year, Vera-led initiative that provides selected states with incentive funding and technical assistance to expand access to higher education for people in prison and those recently released. The project seeks to demonstrate that access to postsecondary education, combined with supportive reentry services, can increase educational credentials, reduce recidivism, and increase employability and earnings. By validating what works through independent evaluation, the project also hopes to spur national replication and long-term public investment.

Funded by five leading philanthropies—the Ford Foundation, the Sunshine Lady Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—the Pathways Project builds on the substantial body of empirical evidence showing that increased educational attainment is a critical factor in keeping people out of prison and helping people who were incarcerated become contributing members of families and communities.

The project encourages participating states to create a continuum of education and reentry support services that begins in prison and continues in the community after release until the student has achieved a degree or professional certification. It is unique not only for its emphasis on coordination between pre- and post-release programming, but for the partnerships that participating states are required to form with and between state and local officials, corrections and parole agencies, schools of higher education, employers, and community-based service providers.

Goals of the Initiative

  • Increase postsecondary education attainment among the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated population;
  • Increase employability and earnings among formerly incarcerated people as a means of disrupting the cycle of inter-generational poverty
  • Reduce recidivism and improve the quality of life in neighborhoods disproportionately affected by crime and incarceration
  • Demonstrate that there are cost-effective methods for providing access to postsecondary education and support services for currently and formerly incarcerated individuals.

States Selected to Participate

  • Michigan
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina

Key Features

  • In-prison and post-release postsecondary education provided by accredited local colleges
  • Vocational, developmental, GED, and college readiness courses and academic support services
  • Targets individuals within two years of release through two years post-release
  • Postsecondary education degree or credential attainment is a primary focus 
  • Alignment of courses, degrees and certification programs with local labor market trends
  • Transfer of college credits from prison to colleges in the community
  • Links to local employers
  • Parole supervision practices that support pursuit of postsecondary educational opportunities
  • Expanded use of technology solutions for in-prison academic services
  • Mentoring, tutoring, and reentry support services
  • Comprehensive and coordinated in-prison and community-based case planning
  • Vera provides technical assistance and sub-grant funding to the states as well as fosters a learning community among states
  • Third-party evaluation focuses on implementation (replicability and scale), outcomes (attainment of GEDs, postsecondary degrees, employment), and impact (recidivism)

Why offer higher education in prison?

People who are involved in the criminal justice system are severely undereducated compared to the general population. Among federal and state inmates, about 37 percent do not have a high school diploma or a GED compared to 19 percent of the general population. Seventy-eight percent of the prison population lack postsecondary education compared to 49 percent of the general population.1 An extensive body of literature suggests that education is key to improving many of the long term outcomes for this vulnerable population, their families, and the communities in which they live.  While approximately 44 percent of the individuals released from prison are re-incarcerated within three years, either for committing a new crime or violating the conditions of their release,2 researchers find strong inverse correlations between recidivism and education. Offenders with higher education levels are less likely to be re-arrested or re-incarcerated. Studies suggest that graduating from college programs can decrease recidivism by approximately 72 percent.3  

The benefits of education extend beyond an impact upon public safety. First, increasing education attainment could increase both employability and earnings. Data from the US Census Bureau show that the difference in median earnings between people with a high school diploma and those with an associate’s degree was $8,261. The difference jumped to $22,884 when researchers included those who had completed a bachelor’s degree.4 Researchers project that this disparity in earnings is likely to increase further in coming years, as will employers’ demand for college credentials. It is estimated that by 2018, nearly two thirds of all job postings will require applicants to have some level of postsecondary education.5 Second, increasing the education attainment of parents could impact the education achievement of their children.6 Researchers find that education levels of parents are a strong predictor of the educational achievements of their children. Finally, because many ex-offenders tend to be concentrated in poor and minority neighborhoods, increasing their education attainments and employability could also positively impact the communities they return to after their release from prison. Studies find that postsecondary education has a significant impact on both the frequency and the quality of civic engagement and participation (e.g., voting and volunteering).7 Increased earnings would also greatly benefit the quality of life in those communities through local spending and improvements to housing.

For more information about the Pathways Project, contact Fred Patrick.

 


Elizabeth Greenberg, Eric Dunleavy, and Mark Kutner, Literacy Behind Bars: Results From the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy Prison Survey (NCES 2007-473) (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2007).

Pew Center on the States, State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons (Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts, April 2011).

C. A. Chappell, “Post Secondary Correctional Education and Recidivism: a Meta-Analysis of Research Conducted 1990-1999,” Journal of Correctional Education 55, no. 2 (2004): 148-169. M. E. Batiuk, “The State of Post-Secondary Education in Ohio,” Journal of Correctional Education 48, no. 2 (1997): 70-72.

These data refer to 25-64 year old workers in New York State in 2007. Data were retrieved from http://www.higheredinfo.org/ on November 23, 2011.

5 Anthony P. Carnevale, Nicole Smith, and Jeff Strohl, Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018 (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 2010).

6 Eric F. Dubow, Paul Boxer, and L. Rowell Huesmann, “Long-term effects of parents’ education on children’s educational and occupational success: Mediation by family interactions, child aggression, and teenage aspirations,” Merrill Palmer Q (Wayne State Univ Press) 55, no. 3 (2009), 224-249.

7 Thomas S. Dee, “Are there Civic Returns to Education? (Working Paper 9588),” NBER Working Paper Series (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2003).


Photo credit: Prison Entrepreneurship Program

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Posted by
I’m thrilled to be writing my first Current Thinking blog post as Vera’s president and to reflect on some of Vera’s work this year and how closely it aligns with some unprecedented opportunities in criminal justice. When I returned to Vera this summer after almost seven years away, I came back to...
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Posted by
On Thursday, August 22, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education announced new research findings by the RAND Corporation showing that education in prisons reduces recidivism, is cost effective, and may improve post-release employment outcomes. These findings bode well for the Pathways from...
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Featured Expert

Director, Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project, Center on Sentencing and Corrections