Department of Education Announces Expansion of Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative, Selecting 67 New Postsecondary Education in Prison Sites

Second Chance Pell would be available in 42 states and DC once programs begin

WASHINGTON, DC — Today the U.S. Department of Education announced an expansion of the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative to include a second cohort of 67 new schools selected to provide need-based Pell grants to people in state and federal prisons. Currently, there are 63 colleges that teach in 26 states participating in Second Chance Pell; this second cohort will bring the total to 130 colleges in 42 states and the District of Columbia. The Vera Institute of Justice has been providing technical assistance to the participating colleges and corrections departments since the initiative’s inception, working to ensure that the programs provide quality higher education in prison and post-release.

“The expansion of Second Chance Pell is a testament to the fact that broader access to college in prison is a strategy that works—to improve safety, strengthen communities and expand opportunity in our country,” said Nick Turner, President and Director of the Vera Institute of Justice. “We are thrilled the Department of Education has taken this important step, and Vera remains committed to working with Congress and partners across the spectrum to permanently remove the ban on Pell grants for people in prison once and for all.”

“I’ve had the pleasure of visiting several Second Chance Pell institutions and have seen firsthand the transformative impact this experiment has on the lives of individuals who are incarcerated,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “By expanding this experiment, we are providing a meaningful opportunity for more students to set themselves up for future success in the workforce. The stories I’ve heard from students and institutions engaged in the experiment are very encouraging, and we look forward to seeing how this expansion will help even more students achieve a better future.”

Current Second Chance Pell sites offer a wide variety of credentials ranging from applied career-technical training to baccalaureate degrees. Glenville State College in West Virginia offers a Bachelor of Science in business administration to its Second Chance Pell students, and Dr. Kathleen Nelson, Interim President at Glenville State, said, “Our college believes in giving people a second chance, and over and over again I’ve seen how access to higher education can be completely transformational for our incarcerated students. Learning about different worldviews and perspectives is essential to rehabilitation, and I’m thrilled that more students will now have access to higher education in prison.”

Postsecondary education is never about just one person; it creates a ripple effect. People who are able to access postsecondary education in prison describe the experience as life-changing. Ethan Miller, a formerly incarcerated graduate of Iowa Central Community College’s Second Chance Pell Program, said, “Taking college courses in prison and working toward my degree in supply chain management offered me a sense of hope for the future and was so essential to getting me through my time in prison. Education changed my life: It allowed me to return home with new ideas and goals for how I can contribute to my community.”

Access to postsecondary education improves prison safety for incarcerated people and corrections employees alike. That’s why it’s critical that postsecondary education is accessible to as many incarcerated people as possible.

“It’s hard to imagine a more beneficial way for people to spend time in prison than advancing their education,” said John Wetzel, Pennsylvania’s secretary of corrections. “Incarcerated students who are working toward a better future become positive role models within our facilities and return to their communities with new opportunities open to them. Once we have the pandemic under control, it will be even more essential for returning citizens to be ready to join the workforce and contribute to the economy, and broadening Second Chance Pell will certainly help us do that.”

To see a full list of colleges selected in the second cohort of Second Chance Pell, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s website here.

The Vera Institute of Justice is a justice reform change agent. Vera produces ideas, analysis, and research that inspire change in the systems people rely upon for safety and justice. Vera collaborates with the communities most impacted by these systems and works in close partnership with government and civic leaders to implement change. Across projects, Vera is committed to explicitly and effectively reducing the burdens of the justice system on people of color and frames all work with an understanding of our country’s history of racial oppression. Vera is currently pursuing core priorities of ending the misuse of jails, transforming conditions of confinement, providing legal services for immigrants and ensuring that justice systems more effectively serve America’s increasingly diverse communities. Vera has offices in Brooklyn, NY; Washington, DC; New Orleans and Los Angeles.

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