Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

Alternative Funding Options for Post-Secondary Correctional Education (Part One)

Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

Alternative Funding Options for Post-Secondary Correctional Education (Part One)

Article excerpt


Post-Secondary Correctional Education (PSCE) programs have been offered in United States penal facilities for half-a-century. The primary determinant of these program opportunities has been funding availability. With the exclusion of prisoner-students from participating in the Pell Grant financial aid program, approximately half of the existing PSCE opportunities ceased to function, with many of the remaining options undergoing reductions. This two-part article reviews the historical funding structures, analyzes the current financing situation, and proposes four alternative funding methods for consideration. This article (part one) presents the Pell Grant-based Tuition Repayment - Work/Reparation proposal.

"Charity must not be allowed to go bail for justice."

Rev. William Sloane Coffin


In 1956, on-site post-secondary classes commenced at the State Penitentiary at Menard, Illinois (Marsh, 1973). Over the subsequent forty years, similar Post-secondary Correctional Education (PSCE) opportunities proliferated. By the beginning of the 1990s, there were 772 on-site prison college programs operating in the 1,287 correctional institutions in the United States (Stephan, 1992). The primary funding source for these higher education programs was the Pell Grant (Littlefield and Wolford, 1982; Sarri, 1993). Prisoners were excluded from this federally-funded Basic Education Opportunity Grant with the passage of the renamed Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994. Approximately 25,000 prisoner-college students thus lost their primary, and for the majority sole, funding source for tuition and textbook support (Tracy, 2002).

Since the loss of Pell Grant funding eligibility for prisoner-students and the resulting closure of PSCE programs across the country, there has been a slight operational recovery as diverse alternative funding methods have been developed. The PSCE program nadir so far appears to have been in the 1997-1998 academic year, in which 54.9 percent of the penal systems operated on-site collegiate (including vo-tech) education opportunities, 37.7 percent offered Associate degree programs, and 19.6 percent offered baccalaureate programs (Tewksbury, Erickson and Taylor, 2000). According to the 1997 Corrections Compendium survey of correctional departments, 66 percent of responding "systems indicated that the elimination of Pell Grants eliminated most if not all of their college course opportunities for inmates" (p. 5). By 2002, PSCE opportunities had slightly increased to 55.6 percent of penal systems operating on-site or in-house college level education options, 42 percent offering Associate degree programs, and 33 percent offering baccalaureate programs (Messemer, 2003).

A funding development occurring between these two surveys may account for the positive change in the reported PSCE opportunities. In 1998, the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Act was passed. "This Federal Statute," Messemer (2003:37) reports, "enables Federal appropriates to be spent toward any non-profit organization which offers education programs to adults." Because such federal funds are disbursed to non-profit organizations, rather than directly to students (i.e., in this specification prisoner-students), this permits universities and/or corrections departments to secure funding that can finance PSCE operations. Discretionary state regulations may still exclude prisoner-students from participation from these grants as well, and thus such grants are not "national in scope" as Pell Grants were when prisoner-students were eligible for those. Messemer (2003:37) notes, "though, that "overwhelmingly the majority of states" still require prisoner-students to pay for at least some of their own tuition costs.

Other Funding Options

These and other funding options are the subject of this two-part article. Welsh's (2002) survey of the 50 States and District of Columbia directors of correctional education noted that 57 percent of the respondents reported "replacement or supplemental" PSCE funding originated from three basic categories:

* 32 percent reported use of Youthful Offender Opportunity Grants, either alone or in combination with other sources;

* 16 percent reported state or local assistance, including private grants, inmate canteen profits, state funding and barter agreements with local colleges; and

* 9 percent responded with various prisoner-pay-all costs. …

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