Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative

The Obama Administration started the original Pell Grant expansion in 2015

What Is the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative?

The Second Chance Pell Experiment Sites Initiative is a United States Department of Education program that provides incarcerated individuals with Pell Grants for their educational endeavors. In April of 2022, the Biden Administration announced an expansion of the program, potentially reaching up to 200 schools starting in July of 2023.

Key Takeaway

  • The Second Chance Pell Experiment Sites Initiative is a federal program that provides need-based Pell Grants to incarcerated individuals.
  • The Second Chance Pell Experiment was originally launched by the U.S. Department of Education in 2015 under the Obama Administration.
  • About 130 colleges and universities in 42 states and the District of Columbia are currently participating in the program, and that number is expected to grow to 48 states and over 200 schools by 2023.
  • A study by the RAND Corporation reported that incarcerated individuals who participated in educational programs were, on average, 43% less likely to return to prison compared to prisoners who did not.
  • According to the Vera Institute of Justice, as of April 2021, over 22,000 students in total have enrolled in the program.

Understanding the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education launched the Second Chance Pell Experiment, giving Pell Grants to those who are incarcerated as a way to encourage participation in college and other postsecondary education programs.

Forty-two states and the District of Columbia have select colleges and universities that partner with the program to enroll incarcerated individuals in their programs. Out of the 73 new participating schools, 24 are Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Originally, the program started with 67 participating colleges in 2016 before growing to 130 colleges in 2020. By 2023, almost all 50 states will be participating in the initiative.

The Second Chance Pell Experiment gives incarcerated people the chance to not only gain an education but also increase their chances of successful re-entry once they leave prison. It also boosts their chances of getting employed and lowers their chances of reoffending.

What Is the Second Chance Pell Experiment's Purpose?

The Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative is for incarcerated individuals who wish to continue their education through prison education programs.

In 1994, Congress barred incarcerated people from gaining access to Pell Grants. That meant those in prison couldn't receive any sort of federal funding for financing higher education. The ban was lifted in December 2020, and incarcerated individuals who are enrolled in college-to-prison programs through the Second Chance Pell Experiment are now eligible to receive Pell Grants.

A RAND Corporation study found that on average, those who were in prison and participated in educational programs had 43% lower odds of returning to prison compared to those who did not. The same study found that those who participated in the program were 13% more likely to find a job after leaving prison compared to those who didn’t participate in the educational program.

For incarcerated people who are in a local, municipal, or county correctional facility or a juvenile justice facility and who meet all other Pell Grant requirements, they may be able to receive a Pell Grant while incarcerated. Those who are in a federal or state prison or jail might be ineligible for the Pell Grant.

Who Benefits From the Second Chance Pell?

With this expansion, students will have access to more educational programs. Over 22,000 students have enrolled in the program, as of April 2021, according to data from Vera, an organization working to end the mass incarceration of people of color. Some other notable program benefits include:

  • The percentage of Black students in Second Chance Pell programs in 2020 was almost 2.5 times higher compared to Black students on traditional college campuses in 2018. Overall, however, Second Chance has more White participants compared to other groups.
  • Texas has had the most students and schools participating. From 2016 to 2020, there were seven Texas institutions and 3,338 total students enrolled—the highest in both categories compared to any other state. New York also has seven participating institutions but only 1,259 students who have enrolled in the program during the same four-year period.
  • The U.S. prison population in 2019 was predominantly male, as 93% were men and 7% were women. Of the total participants in the Second Chance Pell Experiment in 2020, 88% were male and 12% were female.

What Institutions Participate in Second Chance Pell Experiment?

Not every postsecondary institution is part of the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative. The U.S. Department of Education sends out invitations to a select number of schools, and those schools have to decide if they want to participate. There are a mix of both two- and four-year academic institutions, including smaller schools and well-known universities. According to the Experimental Sites Initiative (ESI), some schools that were invited to join following the expansion include:

  • Appalachian Bible College
  • Central Texas College
  • Eastern Michigan University
  • Hawaii Community College
  • Indiana Institute of Technology
  • Kent State University 
  • Lincoln University
  • San Diego State University
  • SUNY Empire State College
  • University of Scranton

The U.S. Department of Education will be releasing a full list at a later date when all 73 participating schools have formally accepted the offer with plans to implement the program.

What Is the Second Chance Pell Experiment?

The Second Chance Pell Experiment is an Obama-era initiative that provides need-based Pell Grants to incarcerated individuals. The program was originally launched in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Education.

Can Incarcerated Students Receive Financial Aid?

Students incarcerated in an adult correctional facility or juvenile justice facility have very limited eligibility for federal student aid. Incarcerated students are ineligible for federal student loans, but they may be able to get Pell Grants depending on the location of their correctional facility. These students will also be able to receive Federal Work-Study (FWS) and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), though it's unlikely they will be able to take advantage of them while incarcerated.

How Much Can Someone Get With a Pell Grant?

According to Federal Student Aid, the maximum Pell Grant award will increase to $6,895 for the 2022 to 2023 award year, while the minimum Pell Grant award for that same period will be $692.

Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Department of Education. "U.S. Department of Education Announces Expansion of Second Chance Pell Experiment and Actions To Help Incarcerated Individuals Resume Educational Journeys and Reduce Recidivism."

  2. RAND Corporation. "Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education," Pages xvi–xvi.

  3. Vera. "Second Chance Pell: Four Years Of Expanding Access to Education in Prison," Pages 1-5.

  4. Vera. "Second Chance Pell: Four Years of Expanding Access to Education in Prison."

  5. Vera. "Vera Institute of Justice Applauds U.S. Department of Education Expansion of Second Chance Pell."

  6. National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. "ED Announces Expansion of Second Chance Pell Program."

  7. Federal Student Aid. "Federal Student Aid for Students in Adult Correctional and Juvenile Justice Facilities."

  8. Experimental Sites Initiative. "New Institutions Invited To Participate in the Second Chance Pell (SCP) Experiment."

  9. Experimental Sites Initiative. "New Institutions Invited to Participate in the Second Chance Pell (SCP) Experiment," Page 1.

  10. Federal Student Aid. "(GEN-22-04) REVISED 2022-2023 Federal Pell Grant Payment and Disbursement Schedules."

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