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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

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.

Optimizing Delivery Systems for Higher Education in Prison

Exploration
Iowa Department of Education|$1,100,000|7/2021 - 6/2024
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 expanding postsecondary education options across Iowa that are workforce-relevant and support varied academic and career pathways.

Designing a Postsecondary Education in Prison RFP Initiative

Exploration
American Institutes for Research in the Behavioral Sciences|$363,800|11/2023 - 6/2024
This grant supports American Institutes for Research in the Behavioral Sciences in researching and designing an initiative focused on supporting experienced postsecondary education in prison programs in sharing their knowledge and resources with other programs to accelerate their meeting new federal regulations for receiving Pell Grants.

Organizational Capacity Building Project

Exploration
Formerly Incarcerated College Graduates Network|$240,000|7/2023 - 6/2024
This grant supports the Formerly Incarcerated College Graduates Network in building the executive, organizational and strategic capacity needed to excel as an impactful network of leaders who completed college during incarceration.

Optimizing Delivery Systems for Higher Education in Prison Evaluation

Validation
Second Chance Educational Alliance Inc|$330,000|1/2020 - 6/2024
This grant supports the Second Chance Educational Alliance in evaluating the initiative and synthesizing lessons learned across participating sites.

Optimizing Delivery Systems for Higher Education in Prison

Exploration
State of Minnesota Department of Corrections|$2,000,000|6/2021 - 5/2024
This grant supports the Minnesota Department of Corrections in redesigning their postsecondary educational delivery system to dramatically increase incarcerated learner access and success. The Minnesota Department of Corrections will work alongside a variety of external partners to build a solid infrastructure for core operations across internal departments and external organizations, as well as address relevant institutional policy and practice barriers.

Conducting an Evaluability Assessment of Reentry Campus Program

Validation
Research Triangle Institute|$242,617|12/2022 - 2/2024
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.

Commission on the Effectiveness of Higher Education Behind Bars in New England

Exploration
New England Board of Higher Education|$250,000|4/2022 - 1/2024
This grant supports the New England Board of Higher Education in convening a commission of key postsecondary and corrections decisionmakers in New England to address systemic challenges limiting the efficiency, quality and impact of postsecondary education delivered within the region's prisons. The commission will produce concrete recommendations and develop the blueprint for establishing a regional coordinating entity to support collaboration and alignment of postsecondary pathways across the region.

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.

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.

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