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Studying Programs to Support Incarcerated Students


  • Thanks to new legislation, incarcerated individuals are able to access Pell Grant funds for qualifying prison education programs.
  • Abt is using college interviews and surveys to describe practices for designing effective programs and overcoming potential challenges to complying with the legislation.
  • Study findings will offer insights for colleges that may wish to implement prison education programs in the future.
The Challenge

The U.S. Department of Education seeks to better support students who are incarcerated. Its Second Chance Pell (SCP) Experimental Sites Initiative waived the prohibition against offering Pell grants to incarcerated students in federal or state prisons who are otherwise eligible for the grants. Subsequent legislation, known as the FAFSA Simplification Act, further expands access to Pell grants for incarcerated students and imposes additional requirements on prison education programs. Providing Pell grants to incarcerated students makes higher education more affordable for them, increasing their access to postsecondary education and potentially improving their job opportunities post-release. Currently, little is known about implementing prison education programs and the challenges colleges face in this new regulatory environment.

The Approach

Abt is conducting a study to learn about how best to implement prison education programs, drawing on the experiences of “early implementer” colleges that participated in the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative. Abt helped refine an annual survey for participating colleges to collect additional policy-relevant information, and is conducting interviews with a sample of those colleges about their prison education programming, decision-making, reporting requirements, and challenges.

The Results

Through interviews, surveys, and existing data sources, Abt’s study will offer insights to help colleges design prison education programs that avoid common challenges and are compliant with the FAFSA Simplification Act. Results will be published in a report by early 2024.