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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.

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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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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

Education Justice Tracker

Exploration
Cornell University|$600,000|10/2021 - 12/2024
This grant supports the Cornell Prison Education Program in evolving its incarcerated learner database into a sharable digital tool, while developing models for using this open-source software to improve learner outcomes.

Assessing Quality and Equitable Access and Outcomes of Distance Postsecondary Courses for the Incarcerated

Validation
American Institutes for Research in the Behavioral Sciences|$700,000|7/2021 - 6/2024
This grant supports the American Institutes for Research in conducting a study to identify and examine high quality and equitable distance education practices among a select group of postsecondary education in prison providers offering courses that lead to a credential or degree. By producing evidence on the strengths and weaknesses of different distance education options, this study hopes to determine a connection between characteristics of program quality and student success outcomes.

Massachusetts Prison Education Consortium Expansion

Scaling
The Educational Justice Institute at MIT|$810,700|7/2021 - 6/2024
This grant supports The Educational Justice Institute at MIT in designing a scalable, sustainable and replicable model of postsecondary education delivery throughout the Massachusetts prison system. This model will unite the disparate courses offered throughout the correctional system into a coordinated network of transferable credits, guide students through facility transfers and create comprehensive programs leading to credentials.

Ready for Pell

Scaling
Jobs for the Future Inc|$4,984,528|9/2021 - 4/2024
This grant supports Jobs for the Future Inc (JFF) in leading Ascendium’s Ready for Pell initiative, including identifying and selecting high-capacity postsecondary education providers; surfacing and disseminating best practices; and providing technical assistance to enable institutions to implement best practices. JFF will also manage the third-party evaluation and share lessons from the initiative to inform efforts to scale access to Pell in prison settings.

Preparing Incarcerated Learners for Careers in Technology

Exploration
The LaunchCode Foundation|$967,700|12/2020 - 12/2023
This grant supports The LaunchCode Foundation in expanding access to their foundational coding/web development training and employment program to incarcerated students in several Missouri prison facilities. The goal of the project is to increase workforce training opportunities and improve employment outcomes for incarcerated adults while providing a pathway to further education.

Building Executive Leadership Capacity

Exploration
Alliance for Higher Education in Prison|$130,000|12/2022 - 12/2023
This grant supports the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison in building executive and organizational capacity in its emerging role as a field convener and resource hub for postsecondary education in prison programs nationwide.

Understanding Educational Space Needs in Prisons

Exploration
Ithaka Harbors Inc|$550,000|12/2021 - 12/2023
This grant supports Ithaka S+R in exploring intersections of high-quality postsecondary education in prison and physical space constraints that impact educational programming in prisons. The goal of the project is to conduct research and develop policy recommendations and design solutions that will allow prisons to maximize access to high-quality postsecondary education programming.

Optimizing Delivery Systems for Higher Education in Prison Evaluation

Validation
Second Chance Educational Alliance Inc|$350,000|1/2020 - 12/2023
This grant supports the Second Chance Educational Alliance in evaluating the initiative and synthesizing lessons learned across participating sites.

Transforming Higher Education Policy and Practice in Prisons and Beyond

Exploration
The Education Trust Inc|$815,000|5/2020 - 11/2023
This grant supports The Education Trust in developing two distinct but interconnected leadership development programs that will engage formerly incarcerated learners and postsecondary education in prison practitioners in an intentional learning exchange, producing nuanced reports and analysis and informing improvements to institutional practice.

Increasing Access to Educational Materials in Prisons: Facilitating the Approvals Process

Exploration
Ithaka Harbors Inc|$800,000|10/2020 - 9/2023
This grant supports Ithaka Harbors in developing and making accessible a robust digital educational resource for incarcerated learners, as well as undertaking a major research initiative that will inform institutional change across the postsecondary education in prison field. The goal of the project is to leverage technology to increase learner success, while improving instruction and curricula.

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