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Opportunities to increase enrollment abound

Right now is a great time to take advantage of opportunities to increase enrollment. Most people who have applied for financial aid have heard of Pell Grants. Pell Grants are a form of federal financial aid given to undergraduate students who have exceptional financial need. Some individuals, including those incarcerated in a federal or state prison, are not eligible to receive Pell Grants.

Enter the Second Chance Pell Grant, a part of the US Department of Education’s Experimental Sites Initiative (ESI). The program was created under President Barack Obama in 2015, to provide incarcerated individuals the opportunity to earn a college degree. Local colleges and universities typically deliver the instruction, either via distance learning, or a hybrid distance/in-person model.

Following a recent expansion of the program, 132 colleges now offer degree programs to federal and state prisoners. In the first three years of the program, nearly 12,000 received Second Chance Pell Grants.

TN community college uses the program to increase enrollment

Dyersburg State Community College in Dyersburg, TN offers a degree program through the ESI. Beginning this month, they’ll enroll 50 students from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary. Given that DSCC has just 2,000 students, those 50 students represent about 2.5% of DSCC’s fall enrollment.

DSCC offers its Business Administration program to Second Chance Pell participants. The degree is transferrable and would allow prisoners to start their own businesses after release. That’s important, because about 15% of employers will not hire former inmates under any circumstances.

Another goal of the Second Chance Pell program is to reduce the recidivism rate among former inmates. About 90% of state prisoners in Tennessee will eventually leave prison. Of those, about half will return to a correctional institution. In Tennessee, the Second Chance Pell program has reduced recidivism among prisoners by more than 10%.

A Rand Corporation study, which looked at the impact of correctional education programs, found that participants were 43% less likely to return to prison than those who had not attended classes while incarcerated.

Benefits of education extend beyond prison walls

Giving prisoners an opportunity to learn marketable skills and leave prison for good is extremely valuable to a community. Not only does it convert a previously unproductive individual into a productive one, but it also reduces the resources needed to maintain the corrections system. At the same time, it can increase enrollment for community colleges.

Currently, four Michigan institutions, including Delta College, Jackson College, Mott Community College and Siena Heights University offer degree programs to inmates.

If WCC used the program to increase enrollment by 2.5%, it would add about 275 students per year. Over the course of their studies, those 275 students would generate more than $1.7M in tuition revenues. Maybe it’s just me but offering degree programs to inmates seems like a better use of our educational dollars than building a hotel does. Especially if it helps former prisoners find a way to stay out of the correctional system permanently.

Photo Credit: Don Harrison, via Flickr