Inmate education to continue in Connecticut, at least for now

CTMirror.org

A college course at York Correctional Institute. Elizabeth Behlman is at far right.

Second Chance Pell Grants will continue in Connecticut until at least 2020, according to the state university system, putting to rest recent concerns that federally funded inmate education programs would be ending this year.

For the past two acedemic years, Connecticut has benefited from a pilot program for Second Chance Pell Grants under the federal Department of Education. The pilot program, which was initiated in 2015 under former President Barak Obama, extended Pell grants to thousands of inmates.

The federal pilot established 69 sites in 27 states for inmate education, four of which were in Connecticut at Asnuntuck, Middlesex, Quinebaug Valley and Three Rivers community colleges. The initial program is set to expire at the end of this coming school year.

However, according to the U.S. Department of Education, the Second Chance Pell grants have no official end date. The grants will continue until a decision is made to either adopt the experimental program into law or not.

Automatic renewal of these federal programs is customary unless the recipient is notified one year in advance of the three-year period, according to Maribel La Luz, communications director for the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system.

“On May 10 of this year, Asnuntuck (community college) reached out to their point of contact at U.S. Department of Education and confirmed that they typically do not set end dates, and like to award 3 years with one year of notice. That would bring us to 2020,” La Luz said. “Of course, that could change but we’ve gotten no indication of that so far.”

But CCSU President Mark E. Ojakian would like something more permanent in place for inmates in Connecticut.

“In addition to the Board reaffirming its commitment to Second Chance Pell tomorrow, Ojakian has sent a letter today to Secretary DeVos asking for a permanent authorization of the program,” La Luz said on August 22.

In the letter to DeVos, Ojakian explained how the Second Chance Pell program has allowed 962 students to take college classes and 61 students to earn certificate or degrees in just two years.

“This pilot is giving people a second chance to break the cycle of incarceration, to rejoin our communities, and to build a new life for themselves and their families,” Ojakian wrote. “I strongly urge you and your department to continue the Second Chance Pell pilot. We need to find a permanent solution in the next reauthorization of the Higher Education Act so that students and families know this resource will be available for them from year to year.”

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has yet to respond to the letter.

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