Thirty-eight research, advocacy, justice organizations and professionals call on federal lawmakers to help incarcerated students access the transformative benefits of postsecondary education by reinstating Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated students; and eliminating Question 23 on the FAFSA (drug conviction question) and removing consideration of drug offenses from the financial aid process.
Read the full letter to U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions leaders below and click here to access the letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Dear Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray,
In recent statements made by both of your offices, you expressed interest in reinstating access to Pell Grants for incarcerated students. The 37 undersigned research, advocacy and justice organizations and professionals were heartened by these words and, as Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization discussions proceed, we urge you to remove federal policy barriers that inhibit the successful re-‐entry and rehabilitation of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students.
When incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students access high-‐quality postsecondary educational opportunities, it turns their lives around—it eases re-‐entry to society by improving educational and employment odds, strengthens communities, reunites families, and saves taxpayer dollars.
Reinstating Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated students is a sound investment, while maintaining the ban will cost taxpayers more in the long term. In 1994, the Institute for Higher Education Policy found that the amount of Pell Grant funds awarded to incarcerated students was less than one percent of the program’s entire funding. i Moreover, according to the RAND Corporation, when incarcerated students participate in education programs, recidivism rates drop by 43 percent, making every dollar invested in prison education, a savings of at least four to five dollars on re-‐imprisonment costs for the public.
Ensuring that all students can access affordable postsecondary educational opportunities should be a national priority. Federal lawmakers can expand these opportunities to thousands more students by ensuring that individuals who were convicted of drug-‐related offenses are not discouraged from applying for federal financial aid. A 2015 study by the Center for Community Alternatives focused on the State University of New York found that nearly two out of every three undergraduate applicants who disclosed a felony conviction never completed their applications. This chilling effect may be felt by federal student aid applicants as well. Question 23 on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) asks if applicants have been convicted of drug-‐related offenses. As you explore ways to simplify the FAFSA for all applicants, you can advance these efforts by removing Question 23 and allowing federal aid to be awarded to students seeking to reach their full potential by pursuing a postsecondary education.
We urge you to leverage ongoing HEA reauthorization discussions as an opportunity to remove these federal barriers our country can no longer afford to keep in place. We hope that you will demonstrate true bipartisan leadership and help this often-‐forgotten population access the transformative benefits of postsecondary education in two ways:
- Reinstate Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated students; and
- Eliminate Question 23 on the FAFSA (drug conviction question) and remove consideration of drug offenses from the financial aid process to ensure that no student is discouraged from applying for federal aid.
We recognize the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions plays an important governance role, while also affirming and uplifting national educational priorities.
We look forward to seeing decisive actions that will help these often-‐marginalized students who are simply seeking to reach their full potential.
If you have any questions, please contact Julie Ajinkya, vice president of applied research, at the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (202) 861-8245.
- Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (AHEAD)
- American Prison Writing Archive
- Ashland University
- Association of State and Federal Directors of Correctional Education
- Calvin Theological Seminary, Rev. Julius T. Medenblik, President; Sidney J. Jansma, Chair of Board of Trustees
- Center for American Progress
- Chillon Project, Life University
- Civil Rights Project, UCLA
- Community College Research Center (CCRC)
- Correctional Education Association
- CURE National
- Education Trust
- Eric Bettinger, Professor of Education, Stanford Graduate School of Education
- Estela Mara Bensimon, Dean's Professor in Educational Equity & Director, Center for Urban Education, Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California
- Excelencia in Education
- From Prison Cells to PhD
- Higher Learning Advocates
- Jackson College
- Karol Dean, Dean of the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Mercy College
- Lindsay C. Page, Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh School of Education
- Marybeth Gasman, Judy & Howard Berkowitz Professor Education, University of Pennsylvania, Director, Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions
- New America
- NYU Prison Education Program
- Operation Restoration
- Paul Attewell, Professor of Sociology, Graduate Center, CUNY
- Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education of the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE)
- Robert Kelchen, Assistant Professor, Department of Education Leadership, Management and Policy, Seton Hall University
- Sara Goldrick-Rab, Professor of Higher Education Policy & Sociology, Temple University
- State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO)
- The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS)
- The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP)
- Third Way
- Tressie McMillan Cottom, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Virginia Commonwealth University
- University Beyond Bars, Board of Directors
- Vera Institute of Justice
- Young Invincibles