Higher education in prison can empower incarcerated students before and after release, but little is actually known about the lasting implication on their lives. The impact of these programs is usually measured by reduced recidivism rates alone. With metrics on performance, efficiency and equity to guide them, those who work in the field could refine their programs to help students stay on track to achieve their higher education and career goals.


The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) is perfectly positioned to help practitioners define performance metrics that emphasize student success. IHEP has a strong foundation in research and advocacy for underserved students, including the prison population. They have also developed a framework of key performance indicators (KPIs) across the broader field of higher education to help institutions benchmark their successes and identify ways to improve.

With a $1.7 million grant from Great Lakes, IHEP will tap into their expertise developing metrics for traditional college programs to help adapt a set of KPIs that will fit into the higher education in prison space with a focus on student success. IHEP plans to:

  • Conduct a landscape scan of current higher education programs in prison and the ways they measure access, success, affordability and post-release outcomes.
  • Initiate conversations between practitioners and outside experts to determine the most useful performance metrics for measuring the effectiveness of prison learning programs.
  • Design a set of KPIs specifically for higher education in prison to help practitioners gather measures of performance, efficiency and equity in their programs.
  • Field test the KPIs at a newly launched University of Iowa program and at an established program offered through Holy Cross College and University of Notre Dame in Indiana. Testing within these programs will offer a useful comparison between a start-up environment and a program with a longer history.
  • Assemble an advisory board representing diverse approaches to postsecondary curriculums, learning outcomes, credentials and career preparation in order to understand the value of different metrics in the prison setting. Bringing together varying perspectives will enable a historically disjointed field to collaborate and begin establishing best practices.
  • Share the KPIs with the field to help practitioners gauge the effectiveness of their programs.

We hope that by creating a set of KPIs specifically for higher education in prison, this project will give practitioners the tools they need to promote student success and expand opportunities for incarcerated students. Because students of color and students from low-income backgrounds are disproportionately represented in prison populations, this work is directly connected to our mission to help more students from historically underserved populations gain access to the benefits of higher education.


Contact Senior Program Officer Toya Wall at