Postsecondary Education in Prison Programs and Accreditation—General Considerations for Peer Reviewers and Accreditors

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Lifting a nearly 30-year ban on Pell Grants for people who are incarcerated, Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act, which restores their Pell Grant eligibility starting in 2023, allowing them to affordably pursue postsecondary education in prison. The Second Chance Pell (SCP) Experiment has highlighted the success of prison education programs (PEPs) and increased access to educational opportunities for students who are incarcerated. With Pell Grant restoration, more people who are incarcerated will be able to fund postsecondary education and more colleges will enter the prison education space, requiring close cooperation with accreditors. Vera collaborated with the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) on this guidebook for accreditors and their peer reviewers, providing insight into the unique context and goals of postsecondary education in correctional facilities. It discusses site visit logistics, instructional modalities, student and faculty resources, student learning assessment and outcomes, and colleges' obligations to invest in students’ long-term success.

Key Takeaway

As accreditors are appointed to the forefront of the PEP approval process under federal Pell restoration regulations, this guidebook is intended to supplement accreditors’ existing standards and federal regulation directives and to provide valuable resources highlighting critical quality considerations for ensuring that college-in-prison locations maintain Pell eligibility and the same quality as main, flagship campuses.

Publication Highlights

  • The new Pell reinstatement regulations will likely include directives for colleges, their accreditors, and correctional partners to coordinate implementing high-quality programs earlier than was customary during the SCP Experiment.

  • Given that accreditors are the approved entities responsible for ensuring high-quality educational programming, it is imperative that accreditors and their member colleges consider factors unique to correctional facility campuses and students.

  • This guidebook’s focus—ensuring quality measures in higher education in correctional facilities—is the first of its kind for accreditors and their peer reviewers.

Key Facts