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EDUCATION PHILANTHROPY DIVISION OF ASCENDIUM EDUCATION GROUP

Expand Postsecondary Education in Prison

Our philanthropy addresses barriers facing currently incarcerated adults who don’t have equitable access to high-quality postsecondary education.

A formerly incarcerated person operating a forklift.

How We See the Problem

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the prison population in the U.S. has skyrocketed in recent decades, with one in a hundred adults — about 2.3 million — currently incarcerated. Nearly all of those individuals will return to their communities at some point, and research has demonstrated that postsecondary education dramatically improves the odds of successful reentry into the community and the labor force.

However, access to programs and cost of programs are obstacles, and often the programming is disconnected from career opportunities.

The majority of incarcerated individuals — 64% — have a high school credential. They’re academically eligible for a postsecondary education program; but for most, it’s out of reach. Unfortunately, 93% of colleges don’t provide postsecondary education in prison. Of those that do provide programs, many have limited capacity to serve all interested individuals.

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Graph showing: 64% of the people in prison are academically eligible to enroll in a postsecondary education program. Graph showing: Of the approximately 4500 degree-granting colleges and universities, less than 7% provide in-prison higher education

Ready for Pell

This two-year initiative is designed to support and strengthen postsecondary education in prison programs in advance of the full restoration of Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated learners, coming in the 2023-24 academic year.

Our Three Investment Priorities

Grants to Expand Postsecondary Education in Prison

Launching the New England Prison Higher Education Collaborative

Exploration
New England Board of Higher Education|$6,762,442|2/2024 - 1/2029
This grant supports the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) in catalyzing collaboration across and within its six New England member states to increase the quantity and quality of postsecondary education offerings in prison. As the first regional prison education collaborative, NEBHE will serve as a convener, technical assistance provider, research hub, and funder for the participating states.

Oregon Statewide PEP Degree Program

Exploration
Portland State University Foundation|$2,314,924|8/2023 - 6/2028
This grant supports Portland State University Foundation in developing transfer pathways for incarcerated learners in Oregon in partnership with two community colleges. In addition to offering a clear path to a bachelor’s degree, Portland State University and its partners will provide learners with wrap-around supports during incarceration and post-release.

Establishing a State University of New York Prison Education Network

Exploration
The Research Foundation for SUNY|$3,001,200|1/2024 - 12/2026
This grant supports the State University of New York (SUNY) in expanding its postsecondary education in prison programs and solidifying the SUNY Office of Higher Education in Prison as the convener of and technical assistance provider for programs on 20 SUNY campuses.

EnGAge: Building and Mobilizing a Community of Practice for Higher Education in Prison in Georgia

Exploration
Georgia Coalition for Higher Education in Prison|$1,019,166|11/2023 - 11/2026
This grant supports the Georgia Coalition for Higher Education in Prison in convening stakeholders in Georgia to streamline and strengthen prison education across the state. In addition to increased state-wide cooperation, the project will result in the successful launch of two new postsecondary education in prison programs in facilities with high need and few current postsecondary offerings.

Unlocking Pathways to Upward Mobility: Building Bridges from Prison to Employment with Unlocked Labs

Exploration
Unlocked Labs|$1,720,000|11/2023 - 10/2026
This grant supports Unlocked Labs in continuing to develop innovative new tech-focused educational content and pathways to employment for justice-impacted individuals, as well as exploring funding models that can effectively sustain its programming.

Building a Statewide Data Dashboard for Postsecondary Education in Prison

Exploration
Coleridge Initiative Inc|$630,530|9/2023 - 8/2026
This grant supports the Coleridge Initiative in strengthening Arkansas’s data infrastructure to develop a data dashboard and conduct policy-relevant research on postsecondary education in prison. This project will serve as a model for other states on how to develop and use data to understand and improve postsecondary education in prison.

Employability Skills for HEP Curriculum

Exploration
The QA Commons Inc|$227,900|8/2023 - 6/2026
This grant supports the QA Commons in integrating employability skills and college transitions supports into the Missouri Department of Corrections' Career and Technical Education programs for incarcerated learners.

THEI Technical Assistance

Exploration
Tennessee Higher Education Initiative Inc|$1,105,000|11/2023 - 5/2026
This grant supports the Tennessee Higher Education Initiative in developing student facing resources, providing technical assistance to the Tennessee Department of Correction, and providing training and support to other prison education programs nationally.

Expanding Business Education and Employment Opportunity in Postsecondary Education in Prison Programs

Exploration
Resilience Education|$2,500,000|5/2023 - 5/2026
This grant supports Resilience Education in expanding a consortium of leading business and law schools delivering credit-bearing business and financial skills courses in prisons. Resilience will develop new curriculum, build partnerships with additional professional schools and corrections facilities and create new employer partnerships to increase the number of learners gaining professional skills and finding employment after release.

Building a Multi-Sector Consensus for Expansion of Postsecondary Education in Virginia's Prisons

Exploration
Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy|$749,900|2/2024 - 1/2026
This grant supports the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP) in establishing a statewide coalition focused on increasing high-quality postsecondary education in prison in Virginia. VICCP will raise awareness about postsecondary education in prison and Pell Grant restoration for incarcerated learners and identify and recruit coalition partners.