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NCWE Board Member Blog - Christal Albrecht
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Second Chance Pell



  Dr. Christal M. Albrecht
  President
  Alvin Community College, TX
  CAlbrecht@alvincollege.edu

 

 

In June 2016, the U.S. Department of Education announced the 67 community colleges and universities across the United States that had been named as experimental sites to award Pell grants to incarcerated students. Alvin Community College, a college serving nearly 6,000 students and located south of Houston, was one of the colleges selected to participate in the Second Chance Pell pilot program.

The U.S. Department of Education announced the program in July 2015 to test whether participation in high quality education programs increases after expanding access to financial aid for incarcerated individuals.

The pilot program, just completing its first year, has allowed eligible incarcerated Americans to receive Pell Grants and pursue postsecondary education with the goal of helping them get jobs and support their families when they are released. The program is intended to create a fairer and more effective criminal justice system, reduce recidivism, and combat the impact of mass incarceration on families and communities through educational opportunity.

Research has consistently shown that access to education drastically reduces an inmate's likelihood to commit another offense. A 2013 study1 found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who did not participate in any correctional education programs. The study also estimated that for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, four to five dollars are saved on three-year re-incarceration costs.

Alvin Community College launched its program with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) more than 50 years ago as the first college in the state of Texas to offer higher education in the prison system. We provide six different degree programs and one certificate program at four different correctional units in the Gulf Coast region of Texas. Each spring we host a graduation ceremony at the prison where we are proud to see the graduates and their families celebrate an accomplishment that many thought would never be possible.

Most incarcerated students do not have the resources to self-pay and rely on the limited funds that are ‘loaned’ to them by the state, which they must repay upon their release. There are approximately 150,000 people incarcerated in the state of Texas prison system. Because about 80% of those inmates never graduated from high school or obtained a GED, they are unprepared academically for the rigors of college. Thankfully GED preparation is available to the inmates and there are an increasing number who want to enroll in college courses while in prison.

Last year at Alvin Community College, we had over 300 students enrolled in higher education in the prisons. Because of the Second Chance Pell program, we were able to offer courses to 89 new students who may not have otherwise been able to afford to attend college. Moreover, the 89 new students using the Second Chance Pell awards do not have to rely on the meager funds set aside by the state for education, which also leaves more state money available to other inmates. We are looking forward to the even larger impact we can make with this population with the use of Pell funds.

Second Chance Pell is helping Alvin Community College make progress in meeting the educational needs and demands of this special population of students. We know that with a college education, the odds of success on the outside will increase dramatically and we are proud to offer the inmates an opportunity to improve their lives and ultimately, the lives of their families.

We hope that the new administration will continue to support this program and make it a standard part of college financial aid. It is a win-win for all.

1) http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR266.html

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