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Incarcerated students eligible for Pell Grants

Appeal-Democrat - 7/6/2023

Jul. 6—The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced on Thursday that all incarcerated students in California and nationwide are eligible to receive federal Pell Grants to help pay for higher education.

Federal Pell Grants are education grants that can be used by eligible students enrolled in an accredited college or university. They are available for low-income students who have not yet earned a bachelor's or professional degree.

As of July 1, incarcerated students have the opportunity to earn financial aid to further their learning and meet their rehabilitative goals, officials said.

According to the Department of Corrections, higher education reduces recidivism and provides a pathway for good paying jobs upon release. A study from the Rand Corporation, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 48% less likely to return to prison within three years than incarcerated individuals who did not participate in any correctional education programs.

Rand also estimated that for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, four to five dollars are saved on three-year re-incarceration costs.

"We know that college changes lives and can be transformative. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is committed to grade school-to-grad school opportunities for all incarcerated individuals, and I am thrilled that the return of Pell Grants helps make that possible," Superintendent of Correctional Education Shannon Swain said in a statement.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Simplification Act was signed into law in December 2020 and restored Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated individuals for the first time since 1994, officials said.

This new law requires confined or incarcerated individuals to enroll in a prison education program that has been approved by the state Department of Corrections and the federal Department of Education in order to access a federal Pell Grant.

For incarcerated students, grant money can be used to help cover tuition, fees, books, and supplies. Funds go directly to the academic institution — no money goes to the student or the state Department of Corrections. The money does not need to be repaid.

California community colleges and universities partner with the Department of Corrections to offer associate, bachelor's and master's degree programs. About 13.5% of the entire incarcerated population are enrolled in college courses, officials said.

Officials said that eight California Department of Corrections institutions have bachelor's degree programs that are currently or will be using Pell Grants, and a ninth program is expected to start in 2024.


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