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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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Ascendium's Approach

An investment priority to...

Implement new practices and scale proven high-quality postsecondary education in prison models

Means we support...

  • Existing efforts that increase student access and success at scale
  • Addressing common challenges through new approaches or solutions

Which will lead to...

  • Increasing innovative program design and new ways of delivering instruction and student supports 
  • Increasing employer partnerships and career pathways that are relevant to regional workforce needs 
  • Increasing quality in postsecondary education in prison instruction and curricula
  • Increasing the number and percentage of incarcerated learners who enroll in and complete their program of study

An investment priority to...

Develop a better understanding of incarcerated learners through data and research

Means we support...

  • Building practical applications and shared data capacity in programs, institutions and systems
  • Identifying key research priorities and generating new knowledge

Which will lead to...

  • Supporting institution and system partners to develop robust data collection, interpretation and reporting practices across a relevant set of outcomes
  • Enabling trend assessment in incarcerated learner outcomes on state and national levels
  • Generating new knowledge about how to amplify incarcerated learner success

An investment priority to...

Support strategic partnerships between postsecondary education, correction systems, employers and community-based organizations

Means we support...

  • Developing and implementing a vision for increasing systemwide access to a coordinated array of high-quality postsecondary degrees and credentials
  • Removing barriers to program quality, accessibility and learner academic and career success through systemwide collaboration

Which will lead to...

  • States developing, implementing or readying systemwide strategies
  • Developing interconnectivity, communication and partnerships across agencies, systems and organizations
  • Removing prohibitive policies, practices, incapacities and cultural barriers imposed by systems
  • Increasing the number of learners and prison facilities served by high-quality programs

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|$600,000|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.

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.

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.

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.

Ready for Pell

Scaling
Jobs for the Future Inc|$4,735,578|9/2021 - 8/2023
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.

Expanding Access to Postsecondary Pathways in Louisiana State Prisons

Exploration
Operation Restoration|$650,000|6/2020 - 5/2023
This grant supports Operation Restoration in the planning and implementation of a bachelor’s degree program that will leverage technology to support incarcerated students in multiple facilities across the Louisiana state prison system. The organization will also pilot an innovative advising model that trains students with long-term sentences as academic advisors.

Unlocking the Promise of Pell for Students in Prison

Scaling
Vera Institute of Justice Inc|$1,100,000|4/2020 - 12/2022
This grant supports Vera Institute of Justice in providing meaningful and in-depth technical assistance, training and advising to new and existing Second Chance Pell Initiative college sites and their state corrections system partners. The goal is to ensure the implementation of high-quality postsecondary education in prison and to help the field grow a cohort of correctional administrators prepared to support the broad expansion of such programs.

Transforming Higher Education Policy and Practice in Prisons and Beyond

Exploration
The Education Trust Inc|$815,000|5/2020 - 4/2022
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.

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