Biden Expands Pell Grants for Incarcerated Students

This is the second time Biden has expanded the Second Chance Pell Experiment, growing the program to include more than 200 colleges and universities.

Updated May 5, 2022

Biden Expands Pell Grants for Incarcerated Students
Higher Ed Policy
Photo by The Washington Post / Contributor / The Washington Post / Getty Images

  • Pell Grants continue to expand under the Biden administration.
  • This update to the Second Chance program is the latest for an initiative that dates back to 2015.
  • Government officials hope these education programs will reduce recidivism.

A federal education program for incarcerated people is expanding to provide access to more colleges and universities.

The Department of Education (ED) announced that it will expand the Second Chance Pell Experiment starting on July 1. The program allows incarcerated people at some federal and state penal institutions to gain credentials through partnerships between prisons and schools. The experiment allows these students to access Pell Grants to pay for their education and credentials.

Pell Grants help nearly 7 million low- and middle-income students pay for college each year. Those in prison couldn't access this aid until the Second Chance Pell Experiment began in 2015.

Biden already expanded this program once in 2020, roughly doubling the original 67 programs to around 130. This second expansion invites 73 new colleges and universities to participate, including 24 historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions. The total number of schools will soon be 200.

According to the statement from ED, the program has helped students earn over 7,000 credentials. The program is building up to changes that will allow eligible incarcerated students nationwide to access Pell Grants beginning July 2023.

The goal is for these prison education programs to decrease the recidivism rates of inmates, the department said. Recidivism describes the tendency for previously incarcerated people to commit crimes after their release from prison.

Research firm Rand Corp. found that incarcerated people who participate in education programs had a 43% lower likelihood of recidivism than those who do not participate.

"Access to high-quality postsecondary education is essential to incarcerated individuals, but for far too long, people in prison were left out," U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in the statement. "The expansion of Second Chance Pell and these new pathways out of default are critical steps for incarcerated individuals to be able to access educational opportunities that will provide second chances to build a future."

ED announced additional changes that would help incarcerated individuals further access Pell Grants. Under a new policy, incarcerated students with defaulted loans will qualify for a "fresh start" once the federal student loan payment pause ends, which essentially erases the default status. People in default aren't currently able to access Pell Grants.

Additionally, ED will allow these students to consolidate any existing loans to help them exit default in the long term.

This is the latest move by the Biden administration to expand Pell Grants. Most recently he proposed doubling the maximum Pell Grant award by 2029. In the short term, he proposed increasing the maximum to $8,670 in 2023, a 25.7% increase from what Congress approved for the 2022 fiscal year.