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Introducing the New Expand Postsecondary Education in Prison Team

June 9, 2022 2-minute read
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The upcoming restoration of Pell Grants for incarcerated adults presents a unique opportunity to strengthen and support quality postsecondary education in preparation for some of the most underserved students eager to enroll. There is also urgency to ensure that educational institutions, state postsecondary education systems and state departments of corrections are working in greater alignment so that postsecondary education opportunities are of high-quality and afforded equitably to all incarcerated individuals.

To meet this moment, we are thrilled to announce our new team in our Expand Postsecondary Education in Prison focus area. Molly Lasagna joins as a senior program officer while Maryann Rainey transitions into the role of program officer.

Molly comes to Ascendium after dedicating the last decade to supporting incarcerated communities. She has served as a prison chaplain, a policy analyst and, most recently, as executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Initiative, a nonprofit organization that brings degree-bearing college programs to prisons in Tennessee. In Nashville, she was at the forefront of efforts to build a collective of Southern postsecondary education in prison programs and led the creation and growth of a network of state agencies and institutions of higher education called the Tennessee Prison College Coalition.

An Education Philanthropy team member since 2018, Maryann will serve as program officer after holding the same role in the Streamline Key Learner Transitions focus area. She previously served as director of operations for adult learner initiatives at the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and brings deep experience in working to address barriers to high-quality postsecondary education at the system level.

Molly and Maryann will lead grantmaking designed to strengthen the alignment and capacity of all those involved in providing high-quality postsecondary education to incarcerated learners. Those efforts include:

  • Ready for Pell, a two-year initiative designed to support and strengthen postsecondary education in prison programs in advance of the restoration of Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated adults in the 2023-24 academic year.
  • Optimizing Delivery Systems for Higher Education in Prison, a multi-year initiative that supports the development or expansion of postsecondary education in prison programs across the U.S.
  • A grant supporting the New England Board of Higher Education in a first-of-its-kind regional commission focused on streamlining and strengthening postsecondary education in prison across the six New England states.

The team is also committed to addressing other urgent challenges, including the effective and equitable use of technology to strengthen learning in prison. It’s all in service of breaking down barriers so that more incarcerated learners can access high-quality postsecondary education and achieve their dreams.

“Molly joining our team alongside Maryann creates a dream team of expertise and commitment to creating opportunity for incarcerated learners,” says Deputy Director – Education Grantmaking Keith Witham. “We're excited for the work that lays ahead under their leadership to deepen our support of coherent and high-quality postsecondary education in prisons.”