Despite a growing number of HEP programs, the majority of incarcerated people do not have access to high-quality postsecondary education opportunities. Too often the programs available provide low-quality instruction, irrelevant credentials and minimal student support. And the two complex systems that must come together to deliver HEP services (prisons and colleges) need support to create the relationships and infrastructure necessary to collaborate effectively.

Historically, research on HEP has tended to emphasize a correlation between credentials and reduced recidivism. It is with this narrow focus that many programs were designed. But the field is now shifting its attention to student success. Identifying and scaling systems that guide learners through a well-crafted pathway to academic and reentry success is critical.


We’re eager to support efforts that can help us—and the field—learn what it takes to build the relationships and infrastructure necessary for systemic improvement, both academic and operational. Our $5 million commitment will fund one-year planning grants and two-year implementation grants at three sites. It will also fund a comprehensive evaluation.

In spring of 2019 we put out a request for concepts to find postsecondary institutions and corrections departments poised to take their HEP systems to the next level. Among the submissions we received, we awarded planning grants to the below sites with an opportunity for additional resources during the implementation phase.

  • The Minnesota Department of Corrections is working with the “Just Education” Collaborative at University of Minnesota’s Institute for Advanced Study, Inver Hills Community College/Dakota County Technical College and Augsburg University as they prepare to launch their “College at Prison” effort to reimagine postsecondary offerings across all Minnesota prison facilities.

  • The Iowa Department of Education is partnering with the Iowa Department of Corrections, Des Moines Area Community College, Iowa Central Community College and the University of Iowa to develop a statewide plan to increase HEP options that support workforce-relevant academic and career pathways.

  • City University of New York’s Institute for State and Local Governance is collaborating with the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, bringing together key stakeholders across the state to align educational offerings in 47 college and vocational programs at 30 prisons.

We believe refining these delivery systems to better meet students’ needs could ultimately lead to increased credential completion rates, smoother college transfers and more meaningful employment opportunities.

After the implementation phase, Second Chance Educational Alliance (SCEA) will evaluate the initiative and share lessons learned with the field. Expanding high-quality HEP is one of the four focus areas of Ascendium’s funding strategy, and findings from SCEA’s evaluation will help guide our future grantmaking in this space.


Contact Senior Program Officer Toya Wall at