ISSUE

Over 200 postsecondary institutions across the country offer higher education in prison (HEP) programs. But many of these programs are isolated and rarely get the chance to compare notes on advocacy, programming or operations. HEP practitioners have long recognized a need for a centralized set of resources that could provide opportunities for collaboration and help establish and promote best practices.

SOLUTION

In 2017 a voluntary advisory board of practitioners and key stakeholders established the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison (the Alliance). The Alliance’s initial launch was supported by funders who recognized the need for a national organization that could develop a unified HEP learning community. Because we believe this community could help more students from low-income backgrounds and students of color realize the benefits of higher education, we made a $300,000 grant to the Alliance to help them hire staff, build infrastructure, forge key partnerships and develop these three strategic focus areas:

Programmatic Support – The Alliance is supporting practitioners with technical assistance, hands-on training and networking opportunities such as the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison. To help formerly incarcerated students get the most from their HEP experiences, the Alliance will connect them to national and regional networking opportunities, fellowships and internships.

Resources and Information Sharing – With information drawn from well-established HEP programs, the Alliance is creating original resources and curating materials that will be accessible online. In June 2019, the Alliance published “Equity + Excellence in Practice: A Guide for Higher Education in Prison,” a comprehensive list of recommendations outlining the essential components of a high-quality HEP program.

Research and Data – The Alliance is developing standards and best practices through research and data collection. Research is focusing on metrics such as degree completion, transferable credits, program evaluations, pathways to post-release education and training standards for instructors.

We hope this project will give practitioners across the country access to the tools, resources and expertise necessary to serve incarcerated students more effectively, ultimately increasing completion rates. We’re pleased to support this work and look forward to watching the HEP community grow and thrive.

LANDSCAPE ASSESSMENT PROJECT

To help accomplish the goals outlined above, AHEP has initiated the Higher Education in Prison Landscape Project in partnership with the Research Collaborative on Higher Education in Prison at the University of Utah and the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Launched in June of 2019, the project aims to provide the field with comprehensive information about HEP programs, who they serve, what credentials they offer, and other key reference points that will lead to a better understanding of the HEP landscape. AHEP will survey the field, develop a national directory of HEP programs, and produce reports based on qualitative data gathered through interviews with key practitioners.

Ascendium committed $925,000 to the project, which is also being supported by ECMC Foundation and the Sunshine Lady Foundation. We’re excited about the contribution this knowledgebase will make toward future efforts to improve the quality of HEP programs nationwide.

QUESTIONS

Contact Senior Program Officer Toya Wall at twall@ascendiumeducation.org.