North Carolina Joins Pioneering Initiative to Expand Access to Higher Education for People in Prison and After Release

NEW YORK, NY—The Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) today announced that North Carolina has been selected to participate in the Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project (Pathways Project). This 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. North Carolina will receive $1 million in incentive funding to pilot educational programming and reentry support services to male and female adult offenders in seven facilities as well as in Charlotte, Asheville, and Greenville, communities to which many participants are scheduled to return.

North Carolina was one of six states invited to apply for this competitive program. It joins New Jersey, which received an earlier commitment for its statewide efforts involving eleven prison facilities and a consortium of eight colleges and universities. The North Carolina program will be led by the Department of Public Safety, in partnership with five community colleges supported by the North Carolina Community College System. The project may expand to additional states as more funding becomes available.

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 student has achieved a degree or professional certification. The project 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.

A substantial body of empirical 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 seeks to demonstrate that access to postsecondary education, combined with supportive reentry services, can increase educational credentials, reduce recidivism, and increase employability and earnings. An independent evaluation will be conducted to determine the initiative’s success in these areas.

“Vera looks forward to working with the selected states on this important collaboration. 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 scarce taxpayer dollars,” said Vera’s President and Director Michael Jacobson. “We applaud North Carolina and New Jersey for their thoughtful and cutting edge proposals.” 

In North Carolina, project participants at pilot facilities will have the opportunity to pursue an associate’s degree in applied science with a certificate in business administration, computer information technology, or entrepreneurship. Participants will continue to receive academic assistance during their reentry period and will be linked to needed support services provided by local reentry councils through a partnership with the Department of Commerce, Division of Workforce Solutions. North Carolina will also align post-release supervision practices so that they encourage and support the continued pursuit of postsecondary education by participants.

“We are honored that the Vera Institute has selected North Carolina for this program,” said Kieran Shanahan, Secretary of North Carolina Department of Public Safety. “This is a tremendous step forward in our efforts to reduce recidivism, help offenders lead crime-free lives after prison, and make North Carolina a safer place.”

Four leading foundations fund the Pathways Project—the Ford Foundation, the Sunshine Lady Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The project continues to seek additional funding partners to support the development of pilot efforts in other states.

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.