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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

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.

Conducting an Evaluability Assessment of Reentry Campus Program

Validation
Research Triangle Institute|$617,617|12/2022 - 2/2025
This grant supports Research Triangle Institute in assessing the evaluation readiness of the Reentry Campus Program (RCP) through a one-year evaluability assessment. This work will assess RCP's operations and data collection to provide them with actionable steps to prepare for a rigorous study of how its approach contributes to positive postsecondary outcomes for currently/previously incarcerated learners.

Catalyzing Technical Assistance for Postsecondary Education in Prison

Exploration
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign|$300,000|9/2023 - 2/2025
This grant supports the Education Justice Project at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in refining and distributing resources that help incarcerated learners transition from prison classrooms to free-world campuses and meaningful employment.

Planning for a Center for Prison Education Research and Leadership

Exploration
University of Utah|$1,068,000|7/2023 - 12/2024
This grant supports the University of Utah in planning the design and launch of a research center focused on postsecondary education in prisons. The proposed center will serve as a national hub for defining critical evidence gaps and advancing rigorous research to inform the design, evaluation and improvement of postsecondary education programs for incarcerated learners.

Helping the Field Prepare for Pell Reinstatement

Scaling
Vera Institute of Justice Inc|$1,400,000|12/2022 - 12/2024
This grant supports Vera Institute of Justice in providing technical assistance, training and advising to new and existing Second Chance Pell college sites and their state corrections system partners. The goal of these activities is to ensure the implementation of high-quality postsecondary education in prison and to help the field prepare for the full restoration of Pell Grants for incarcerated learners on July 1, 2023.

Understanding Educational Space Needs in Prisons

Exploration
Ithaka Harbors Inc|$550,000|12/2021 - 12/2024
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.

Massachusetts Prison Education Consortium Expansion

Scaling
The Educational Justice Institute at MIT|$810,700|7/2021 - 12/2024
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.

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 - 12/2024
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.

Preparing for Pell Grant Eligibility for Incarcerated Learners

Scaling
National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators|$551,125|4/2023 - 9/2024
This grant supports the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators in providing technical support to financial aid offices preparing for the return of Pell grant eligibility for incarcerated learners.

Strengthening the Postsecondary Education in Prison Field Through High-Impact Technical Assistance

Exploration
American Institutes for Research in the Behavioral Sciences|$460,600|10/2023 - 9/2024
This grant supports American Institutes for Research in the Behavioral Sciences in building infrastructure to assess, improve, and diffuse knowledge about the quality of technical assistance within the field of postsecondary education in prison.