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After A Year, Only One Prison Pell Grant Program Has Won Approval

Lawmakers and state corrections agencies and stepped up potential partnerships with universities after the U.S. Department of Education announced last summer that federal Pell Grants would become available to incarcerated college students. Nearly a year later, colleges and agencies are recognizing the administrative challenge of winning approval from the U.S. Department of Education, according to Stateline. So far, just one new program eligible for the federal financial aid grant has got off the ground. “We’re going to see an impact — it’s coming. It’s been a bit slow to arrive because of this quality focus within the regulations,” said Ruth Delaney, who leads a program at the Vera Institute of Justice to help scale up college programs in correctional institutions. “What’s great is that there’s a lot of energy in colleges and corrections to start new prison education programs.” Pell Grants were officially restored for incarcerated students in July 2023 after a nearly 30-year federal ban that prohibited most incarcerated students from receiving the aid.


More than 750,000 incarcerated students could potentially become eligible for Pell Grants. To qualify, they must be below the family income limits and be at a prison that offers a college program approved by the federal Department of Education. The only program that has been fully approved is at Pelican Bay State Prison in northern California. Students there will be eligible to receive Pell Grants starting next fall to study for a degree in communications from California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt. Still, officials from state corrections agencies in Maryland, Michigan and Wisconsin said that since Pell dollars became available, more colleges and universities have become interested in establishing prison education programs. Since last summer, 44 state corrections agencies and the federal Bureau of Prisons have developed applications or other systems to approve prison education programs, the Vera Institute says. “There are people in prison who have been waiting 30 years for this opportunity to come back, and they are just so eager to enroll,” Delaney said. “Anything we can do to move quickly to get high-quality programs in place — that’s what we’d like to see.”

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