Pell Grants for Prisonrs

Governor Laura Kelly today announced that seven Kansas colleges will be receiving $2,229,125 million in Pell funding for incarcerated citizens. The awards were officially announced by the U.S. Department of Education in April 2020, with colleges receiving notice in September of specific amounts.

The colleges awarded Second Chance Pell Experiment status are Barton Community College, Great Bend, KS; Colby Community College, Colby, KS; Donnelly College, Kanas City, KS; Hutchinson Community College, Hutchinson, KS; Kansas City Kansas Community College, Kansas City, KS; University of St. Mary’s, Leavenworth, KS; and Washburn University, Topeka, KS.

“We know that increased access to education reduces rates of recidivism among formerly incarcerated individuals,” Governor Laura Kelly said. “These grants are a great development for our correctional facilities and our criminal justice system as a whole.”

The funding will enable approximately 700 incarcerated citizens to participate in credit-bearing Career Technical Education (CTE) programs in addition to associate and four-year degrees. This was the second round of awards through the U.S. Department of Education, with 67 colleges selected from 180 applicants. Kansas received the highest number of awards in the nation.

“These grants are an important milestone in our commitment to increasing higher education opportunities in Kansas correctional facilities,” said Kansas Department of Corrections Secretary Jeff Zmuda.

The colleges will deliver 25 programs in the eight KDOC correctional facilities. Certifications will be offered in areas such as welding, solar energy and photovoltaic, wind technology and business management. Associate degrees will be offered in general studies, applied science, business, networking and office administration. Bachelor’s degrees will be offered in science health information systems management, computer information systems and integrated studies.

The colleges involved are supported by the Kansas Consortium on Corrections Higher Education, a coalition of eleven Kansas colleges, in partnership with the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) and Kansas Board of Regents. The Consortium works closely with the agencies and colleges to ensure prison programs are of the same quality as those on campus and deliver certifications and degrees in high-demand occupations.

“We greatly appreciate the commitment and support from our partnering colleges and the Kansas Board of Regents,” Zmuda said. “Giving residents the opportunity to gain skills and earn a livable wage is critical to becoming successful, contributing members of their communities.”

Under the Violent Crimes Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, incarcerated citizens lost the ability to access Pell Grants through Federal Financial Aid. In 2015, The Second Chance Experiment program was established, and then expanded in 2020 with now a total of 130 higher education institutions participating, in 42 states and Washington, D.C.

The Second Chance Pell Experiment provides need-based Federal Pell Grants to individuals incarcerated in federal and state prisons. The grants allow incarcerated citizens to receive Federal funding to enroll in postsecondary programs offered by local colleges and universities or distance learning providers. In the first two years of the experiment, institutions were awarded approximately $36.2 million in Federal Pell Grants.

In April, the U.S. Department of Education said nearly 5,000 incarcerated citizens received Federal Pell Grants in the 2016–17 award year, and 6,750 incarcerated citizens received Federal Pell Grants in the 2017–2018 award years. A recent study by the Vera Institute of Justice noted that more than 4,000 credentials—including postsecondary certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor's degrees—have been awarded to Second Chance Pell students over the past three years.

According to data from KDOC, about 75 percent of people entering Kansas prisons have weak education and employment histories, elevating their risk to remain in the KDOC system. The relationship between correctional education programming, quality employment and recidivism has been the subject of numerous national studies. Education programs significantly increase the likelihood of sustained livable wage employment for those who return from prison. When sustained employment is achieved, recidivism decreased by over 30 percent for high risk citizens, and decreased by 22 percent for moderate risk citizens.

Two studies by the Rand Corporation in 2013 and 2018, found that higher education programs can reduce returns to prison by 43 percent. For every $1 invested in higher education for incarcerated students, taxpayers save, on average, between $4 and $5 in three-year reincarceration costs.

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