Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Advocates Call for Rigorous Evaluation of Second Chance Pell Pilot Initiative

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Advocates Call for Rigorous Evaluation of Second Chance Pell Pilot Initiative

Article excerpt

Up until now, much of the talk about the Obama administration's Second Chance Pell Pilot Initiative has been about the merits of providing higher education to individuals behind bars.

But at the inaugural convening of the initiative last month, representatives from the 69 colleges and universities selected a few months ago to participate in the pilot began to delve into the nitty-gritty of how the program is supposed to work.

The $30 million pilot program is expected to reach 12,000 individuals during its first year.

Topics at the July 19 event - convened by the New York-based Vera Institute of Justice and the U.$. Departments of Justice and Education - ranged from how to disburse financial aid within a correctional setting (not directly to the inmates, one official said) to criteria of what offenses might preclude a prisoner from obtaining a Pell Grant. There were also practical warnings about bow cookies may constitute contraband (they could send diabetic inmates into a diabetic coma, one correctional officer said) and bow to deal with "love notes" from inmates.

Despite prior research that shows inmates who enroll in correctional education programs are less likely to reoffend, one of the most important topics discussed at the convening was the need for rigorous evaluation of the Second Chance Pell Pilot programs in order to establish an evidence base for what works,

"Policymakers need a more sophisticated understanding of how certain programs work or don't work," said Johan Uvin, acting assistant secretary in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education within the U.S. Department of Education.

Among other things, Uvin said there is a need for more information about what kind of employment participants in correctional education secure upon their release from prison and wliat kind of money they earn.

Some attendees asked how much of a challenge it will be to track ex-offenders' employment and earnings after release.

"If it's on the books, wc can access Unemployment Insurance data," said Nancy La Vigne, director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute. "But if it's off the books, it's more labor intensive but it is possible."

Dr. Angela Hawken, an associate professor of public policy at Pepperdine University and founder and director of BetaGov - an agency that helps practitioners evaluate their programs for free - said BetaGov is interested in seeing Second Chance Pell Pilot programs run by people who have a "taste for innovation,"

"We don't care what it is," Hawken said. …

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