Incarcerated students were eligible for federal financial aid through the Higher Education Act of 1965 until Congress ended the program in 1994. Because so many incarcerated people come from low-income backgrounds, this legislation dramatically reduced access to higher education in prison. In 2015 the U.S. Department of Education reinstated financial aid through the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program.

Because Vera has a long history of working with prison learning programs and has strong relationships with stakeholders in the field, the Department selected them to be the official technical assistance provider for all 65 sites and allocated funding for one year. But because the financial aid process is so complex, Second Chance Pell sites needed extensive support to develop systems for helping students take advantage of Pell Grants. This left little time for coaching on program development and student success strategies before the funding period ended.


Support from Great Lakes will allow Vera to provide technical assistance beyond financial aid access to eight Second Chance Pell sites. Vera plans to help sites identify areas for improvement and work with practitioners to find ways to strengthen their program offerings, develop strategies to serve more students, improve outcome tracking and accelerate students’ degree attainment. Each site will collaborate with Vera to create a roadmap to institutional change and determine their own benchmarks for success.

We hope this planning grant will give Second Chance Pell sites the tools they need to strengthen their programs and ultimately help more incarcerated students gain college credentials, reenter their communities and find employment. Because a high proportion of incarcerated individuals belong to historically underserved groups, this work aligns with our mission to help more students of color and students from low-income backgrounds realize the benefits of higher education. This project also complements other Great Lakes grants in the prison higher education space, all aimed at improving the life prospects of incarcerated people.


Contact Senior Program Officer Toya Wall at