College Credits in Jail: St. Louis County Joins Growing Trend

St. Louis County, Missouri, is the latest jurisdiction to allow people in jail to earn college credits. Students who are incarcerated will have nationwide access to Pell Grants later this year.
1 min read

Share this Article

  • St. Louis County, Missouri, is offering college credit courses to people in jail, according to St. Louis Public Radio.
  • The classes will be offered via St. Louis Community College.
  • The move comes amid a nationwide restoration of Pell Grant eligibility to people who are incarcerated.
  • Other jails across the country have offered similar access to college courses to people who are detained, including in South Carolina.

People in jail in St. Louis County can take college credit courses through a local community college, making the Missouri county the latest jurisdiction to expand access.

The new program will allow St. Louis County jail detainees with a high school diploma to take college credit courses through St. Louis Community College, St. Louis Public Radio reported. Eligible students are currently able to take history and reading courses, and will soon be able to take a communications or math course.

County Jail Director Scott Anders told St. Louis Public Radio that the goal of the program "is not for them just to complete the classes here, it's for them to continue on with their education when they're released."

The move to expand education access to incarcerated people comes as part of a nationwide trend. The Department of Education last year finalized a rule to expand Pell Grant access to students who are incarcerated.

BestColleges previously reported that incarcerated students will have access to Pell Grants nationwide in July 2023 for the first time since 1994, although programs might vary based on state-by-state implementation.

The federal Pell Grant ban applied only to federal and state facilities, according to the Center for American Progress, meaning that people in local or county jails remained eligible for the grants.

"Under the new regulations, however, all incarcerated people — including those in local and county jails — will have to enroll in a [prison education program] to access Pell Grants," the Center for American Progress website reads. "Acknowledging this change, the Education Department gave students who are already enrolled in programs in local and county jails until 2029 to continue using Pell Grants.

While that federal expansion will be key for students who want to access higher education while incarcerated, various states and localities have already moved to expand access.

In Charleston County, South Carolina, court backlogs meant that some people were held for more than a year — and South Carolina Public Radio reported that officials opted to offer opportunities to work toward GEDs and associate degrees amid those delays.

Community colleges often step up as key partners in programs aiming to educate both currently and formerly incarcerated students.

Nashville State Community College in Tennessee last year announced a $20,000 annual scholarship pool for students who were formerly incarcerated to cover costs like tuition and textbooks, Best Colleges previously reported.

Officials underscored the importance of education in reducing recidivism in announcing that Nashville State Community College scholarship pool.

"Higher education is a gateway to stop the revolving door of recidivism, and as a result making our communities safer and saving millions of taxpayer dollars," Julie Doochin, an educator who founded the Tennessee Higher Education Initiative for people who are incarcerated, said at the time.

BestColleges previously reported that education programs for incarcerated people pay off in the long term: Every $1 invested in prison education programs creates a $4-$5 reduction in incarceration expenses during the first three years after a person’s release, according to the RAND Corp. think tank.