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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.

Download The PDF
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

Education Justice Tracker

Exploration
Cornell University|$1,350,000|10/2021 - 12/2025
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.

Finish Line

Exploration
Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison Inc|$750,000|12/2023 - 11/2025
This grant supports Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison Inc in expanding its programming to more students transitioning from in-prison to free-world postsecondary education. It will also enable Hudson Link to engage in a formative evaluation to improve its services and share lessons learned with other program operators.

Jesuit Prison Education

Exploration
Loyola University New Orleans|$1,200,000|12/2022 - 11/2025
This grant supports the Jesuit Prison Education Network (JPEN), a nationwide coalition of Jesuit colleges, in developing best practices and sharing resources to strengthen postsecondary education in prison programs across the network. JPEN and its research center, the Jesuit Social Research Institute, will strengthen the capacity of member programs to evaluate their programs and build capacity for continuous improvement.

Increasing Opportunities for Justice-Impacted Learners

Exploration
The Education Trust Inc|$1,157,500|11/2023 - 10/2025
This grant supports The Education Trust in delivering a fellowship program focused on building a cohort of formerly incarcerated college graduates who can serve as field leaders and are equipped to inform and strengthen policy and research regarding postsecondary education in prison.

Leveraging NCAN Members to Increase Success for Incarcerated Learners

Exploration
National College Attainment Network|$630,000|10/2023 - 9/2025
This grant supports the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) in developing technical assistance for its members tailored to postsecondary education in prison. With its support, more NCAN members will partner with postsecondary education in prison programs to deliver supportive services to incarcerated learners.

Formerly Incarcerated Leaders Fellowship

Other
Rockwood Leadership Institute|$938,239|8/2023 - 8/2025
This grant supports Rockwood Leadership Institute in developing and piloting a professional learning cohort for formerly incarcerated leaders working within the field of postsecondary education in prison.

Implementing an Evaluability Assessment

Exploration
Reentry Campus Program|$250,000|12/2022 - 8/2025
This grant supports Reentry Campus Program in continuing to strengthen its core programming aimed at helping incarcerated and formerly incarcerated learners identify a career path, gain college credit and complete degrees and certificates. The grant also supports their capacity to work with an external evaluator to define their unique program model and lay the groundwork for future evaluation.

Technical Assistance for Teaching and Learning Initiative

Exploration
University of Puget Sound|$598,500|1/2024 - 6/2025
This grant supports the University of Puget Sound in designing and beginning to create resources and trainings aimed at improving teaching and learning within college classrooms in prison. An initial project will focus on identifying and codifying promising practices for preparing faculty to teach in carceral settings.

Fair Chance to Advance: Transforming Systems & Building Pathways from Corrections to Quality Jobs

Exploration
Jobs for the Future Inc|$750,000|6/2024 - 6/2025
This grant supports Jobs for the Future in designing an initiative focused on supporting and scaling high-quality postsecondary education in prison programs in a cohort of states.

State Policy Barriers for Students Impacted by the Justice System

Exploration
Education Commission of the States|$398,101|8/2023 - 4/2025
This grant supports Education Commission of the States in addressing state-level policy gaps and opportunities to strengthen postsecondary education in prison. Its convenings, reports and policy monitoring will inform and encourage state action supportive of incarcerated learners.
View All Ascendium Grants

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