Michigan Joins National Initiative to Expand Access to Higher Education in Prison and after Release

NEW YORK—The Vera Institute of Justice announced today that Michigan will participate in its Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project, which aims to demonstrate that access to postsecondary education during and after prison, combined with supportive reentry services, can increase educational credentials, increase employability and earnings, and reduce recidivism.

Michigan’s participation is made possible through funding awarded to Vera by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. As a result, Michigan will receive $1 million in incentive funding to pilot educational programming and reentry support services in two correctional facilities as well as in Pontiac and Kalamazoo, communities to which many participants are scheduled to return.

Evidence shows that increased educational attainment is a critical factor in keeping people out of prison and helping formerly incarcerated individuals become contributing members of families and communities. The Pathways Project, a  five-year initiative directed by Vera, provides funding and technical assistance to selected states to develop a continuum of postsecondary education services for people within two years prior to release from prison through two years after release to the community. Michigan was one of six states invited to apply for this competitive program; New Jersey and North Carolina were previously selected to participate in the project.

“Vera is pleased that Michigan will be part of this ground-breaking collaboration and grateful to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for its support,” said Michael Jacobson, Vera’s president and director. “Ensuring that people who are returning to their communities from prison have the educational credentials to successfully enter the labor market can both improve public safety and save taxpayer dollars.” 
"The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is proud to support the Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education project, especially given the fact that our home state of Michigan was selected as one of the three pilot states,” said Alandra Washington, director, Family Economic Security, W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “The foundation's new partnership with the Vera Institute will help test and prove innovative methods for not only helping the formerly incarcerated reenter the workforce, but also for re-engaging with their families. Many of these parolees are parents and this project represents yet another avenue for the foundation to improve the life outcomes for disadvantaged kids." 
"The data on successful offender reentry is very clear. Improving postsecondary educational opportunities for offenders is critical for their success,” said Daniel Heyns, director of Michigan’s Department of Correction. “This grant affords us additional resources to enhance our educational programming. We could not be more pleased to partner with Vera to this end."

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 37 percent of federal and state inmates 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 lacks postsecondary education, compared to 49 percent of the general population. Moreover, studies suggest that graduating from college programs can decrease recidivism by approximately 72 percent.

The Pathways 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 students have a achieved degree or professional certification. An independent evaluation will be conducted by RAND Corporation, in partnership with RTI International, to determine the success and impact of the initiative.

The project is unique not only for its emphasis on coordination between pre- and post-release programming, but also 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.

In Michigan, participants at pilot facilities will have the opportunity to complete college-credit courses provided by Jackson and Oakland Community Colleges which will be transferable to those colleges upon release. Kalamazoo Valley Community College will be partnering in providing post-release services. Project participants will continue to receive academic assistance during their reentry period and will be linked to needed support services provided through partnerships with community-based human services and workforce development organizations.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation joins four other leading foundations in funding the Pathways Project—the Ford Foundation, the Sunshine Lady Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.