ED to expand Pell for prisoners pilot program

The U.S. Education Department (ED) is launching a new Federal Work-Study (FWS) pilot program that will include apprenticeships, as well as expanding a pilot program that allows eligible inmates to use Pell grants for a college education.

The new FWS experiment will give institutions the flexibility to allow students to earn work-study benefits while participating in apprenticeships, internships and work-based learning programs, as well as earn work-study wages while completing required clinical rotations, externships and student teaching.

“For decades, the Federal Work-Study program has allowed students to support themselves while earning a college degree, but for too long, the majority of the work options students have had access to have been irrelevant to their chosen field of study,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a news release. “That will change with this experimental site. We want all students to have access to relevant earn-and-learn experiences that will prepare them for future employment.”

ED also announced that it will expand the Second Chance Pell pilot program to include more colleges and universities. The program has already provided many students with new educational opportunities that prepare them for college and workplace success, the department said, noting that additional students and institutions in the program will help ED to better assess it.

“We are eager to expand the Second Chance Pell experiment, which has shown significant promise,” DeVos said. “We hope that through this expansion, we can reach more students and utilize the information gathered to better inform Congress about future updates to the Higher Education Act.”

More private-sector involvement

According to ED, the new FWS pilot will examine the effectiveness of:

  • engaging more students in private-sector employment
  • increasing the number of work-based learning opportunities available to students
  • providing greater flexibility in the number of hours a student may work

It also will gauge how well it improves student retention and completion, increases student work-readiness and improves job opportunities after college.

Under the current FWS program, nearly 92 percent of its funds help support students in on-campus employment, while just over eight percent support students working for non-profit organizations, ED said. Less than one-tenth of one percent — or $726,000 of the $1 billion appropriated to FWS — goes to support students in private-sector jobs, where many students are likely to seek permanent employment, it added.

The FWS pilot aims to reduce barriers that keep some private employers from working with colleges and universities on such programs. It also will remove a cap on how much of their FWS funds colleges can allocate to private-sector employers, and it will remove other requirements related to community service work opportunities.

In addition, the pilot will study the impact of paying students engaged in required externships, clinical rotations or student teaching on factors such as completion, student satisfaction and reduced borrowing, ED said.

More intermediaries to help

The pilot progam will allow institutions to use federal Job Location and Development funds to retain apprenticeship intermediaries to help increase the number of apprenticeship opportunities available to students. The department defines apprenticeship intermediaries as  “organizations or firms that work with employers to help them identify potential apprentices and screen them according to the employer’s needs, develop on-the-job training materials, assess apprenticeship performance and/or work with partnering education providers to ensure that classroom learning and on-the-job training are aligned.”

The pilot also will reduce the wage share for certain private-sector employers, such as small businesses, to equal that of non-profit employers.

“It is a myth that all non-profit organizations are financially disadvantaged, and all private-sector organizations are financially flush. Therefore, it does not make sense to require a higher wage share of a small start-up company than is required of a large, well-funded, non-profit organization,” ED said.

The department added that it hopes employers who benefit from wage subsidies through the FWS program will be more generous in covering the cost of tuition and fees or in providing other benefits to students.

“The goal is to produce spillover effects that engage employers more actively in curriculum and program review,” it said.

Opening up Second Chance Pell

Currently, there are 64 schools — including many community colleges — in 26 states participating in the Second Chance Pell program, which serves individuals incarcerated in state and federal prisons so that they can enroll in postsecondary programs offered by local colleges and universities. When the program opened for applications in 2015, more than 200 colleges sought to join, according to ED.

“The goal is to give more institutions a chance to participate,” the department said.

To date, 954 credentials have been awarded at the colleges participating in Second Chance Pell, including credentials to 578 individuals while they were incarcerated, and 34 to those who completed their program after returning to their community, ED said.

The expansion comes at a time when there is growing support in Congress to reinstate allowing eligible inmates to use Pell grants for college. Last month, the department held a national convening that examined challenges and promising practices in correctional and re-entry education.

Related articles: ‘Providing prisoners access to Pell grants’ and ‘Bill would restore Pell eligibility for inmates’

About the Author

Daily Staff
CCDaily is published by the American Association of Community Colleges.