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2020 Education Philanthropy Report, Empowering Possibilities

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...

Develop and scale high-quality postsecondary education in prison delivery models

Means we support...

  • Prioritizing initiatives that increase student access and success while providing opportunity for shared problem solving or idea generation across the field or local systems

Which will lead to...

  • Leveraging technology and innovative program design for learner access and success
  • Expanding postsecondary and career options that are relevant to regional workforce needs
  • Increasing quality in postsecondary education in prison instruction and curricula
  • Increasing the number and percentage of eligible incarcerated learners who enroll and complete

An investment priority to...

Develop a better understanding of incarcerated learners through data and research

Means we support...

  • Building shared data capacity and practical application across 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 practice 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 institutional barriers to program quality, program accessibility and learner academic and career success

Which will lead to...

  • States developing, implementing or readying systemwide strategies
  • Developing key institutional partnerships
  • Removing prohibitive policies, practices, incapacities and cultural barriers
  • Increasing the number of learners and prison facilities served by high-quality programs

Grants to Expand Postsecondary Education in Prison

Optimizing Delivery Systems for Higher Education in Prison

CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance|$150,000|1/2020 - 6/2021
As part of Ascendium’s Optimizing Delivery Systems for Higher Education in Prison initiative, this grant supports City University of New York’s Institute for State and Local Governance, in partnership with the New York State Department of Corrections & Community Supervision, in bringing together key stakeholders to coordinate and align the educational offerings of 47 college and vocational programs operating across 30 prisons to eliminate programmatic gaps, increase transferability and ensure broad access to high quality postsecondary education across New York facilities.

Optimizing Delivery Systems for Higher Education in Prison

Iowa Department of Education|$150,000|1/2020 - 6/2021
As part of Ascendium’s Optimizing Delivery Systems for Higher Education in Prison initiative, this grant supports the Iowa Department of Education, in partnership with the Iowa Department of Corrections, Iowa Central Community College, Des Moines Area Community College and the University of Iowa, in developing a plan for expanded postsecondary education options across Iowa that are workforce-relevant and support varied academic and career pathways.

Teaching and Learning Initiative

Prison University Project Inc|$958,700|7/2018 - 6/2021
This grant supports the Prison University Project (PUP) in developing and implementing trauma-informed teaching practices in prison-based college programming and assessing their impact. The grant will also enable PUP to develop and disseminate training materials based on the lessons learned.

Alliance for Higher Education in Prison Capacity Building

Alliance for Higher Education in Prison|$300,000|6/2018 - 5/2021
This grant supports the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison as it works toward a 501(c)(3) designation, hires core staff, builds infrastructure, solidifies key partnerships and develops three primary strategic focus areas: programmatic support, resource and information sharing, and research and data.

Optimizing Delivery Systems for Higher Education in Prison

State of Minnesota Department of Corrections|$150,000|1/2020 - 4/2021
As part of Ascendium’s Optimizing Delivery Systems for Higher Education in Prison initiative, this grant supports the Minnesota Department of Corrections, in partnership with the "Just Education" Collaborative at the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota, Inver Hills Community College/Dakota County Technical College and Augsburg University, in preparing to launch their “College at Prison” effort to reimagine postsecondary education offerings across all prison facilities in Minnesota.

Career Navigator Initiative

State of Minnesota Department of Corrections|$1,692,430|1/2018 - 12/2020
This grant supports the Minnesota Department of Corrections in increasing access to high-quality career and technical education for incarcerated students at four prisons in Minnesota. New certification (OSHA and Forklift) and training (Heavy Equipment Operation) opportunities will be combined with advising to help students obtain gainful employment post-release.

Ensuring High Quality Higher Education in Prison Programs

Institute for Higher Education Policy|$1,903,426|6/2018 - 10/2020
This grant supports the Institute for Higher Education Policy in developing a set of key performance indicators for higher education in prison that will help practitioners use data strategically to improve programs and promote student success.

Supporting the Success of the Second Chance Pell Program in Five States

Vera Institute of Justice Inc|$180,000|6/2018 - 11/2019
This grant supports the Vera Institute of Justice in its work at eight college prison programs to pinpoint priority improvement areas and develop plans for a two-year technical assistance engagement aimed at helping programs move more students toward degree completion, connect to reentry pathways and obtain employment.

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