Department of Education Says Second Chance Pell Initiative to Bring College Programs to Prisons is ‘Incredibly Important’

Principal Deputy Under Secretary of State Diane Auer Jones speaks at the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities Presidents Conference in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 29, 2020. | The Christian Post

The Department of Education is looking to expand its experimental Second Chance Pell initiative to bring college programs to more prisons nationwide but is butting heads with the White House Office of Management and Budget over funding, an official said Thursday. 

Dianne Auer Jones, the principal deputy undersecretary of education, spoke on the state of higher education before dozens of college presidents and administrators at the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities annual presidents conference at the Westin City Center.

Jones updated the gathering on the status of the second cohort of the Second Chance Pell Experimental Site Initiative. Since its launch it 2016, the initiative has helped bring college programs to as many as 12,000 incarcerated individuals nationwide.

With 180 member schools across the globe, CCCU has 13 institutions that have participated in the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative since it was launched by the Obama administration.

“Second Chance Pell is an experiment that we think is incredibly important,” Jones said. “It is probably also illegal.”

“But the prior administration started it and we have a lot more flexibility,” she continued. “One of the things we are not allowed to do with experimental sites is changing eligibility requirements. So technically, it is not a legal experiment. But Congress likes it and the last administration started it and we said, ‘What the heck, we’ll join the club.’”

The Second Chance Pell initiative essentially uses the authority of the Experimental Sites Initiative of the Higher Education Act to circumvent a 1994 law passed by Congress banning those in prison from receiving Pell Grants.

Over 60 colleges and institutions participated in the first cohort of Second Chance Pell. Last year, the department announced that it would allow new cohorts of colleges and universities to apply for the initiative.

Jones told the administrators that the department will soon release the names of schools selected to participate in the second cohort of the experimental site initiative. She said that the agency has received over 130 applications so far.

“Our biggest obstacle there is we have to get a budget number from the Office of Management and Budget,” Jones explained. “There is a cost associated with the new cohort of Second Chance Pell because it allows additional students to participate and get a Pell Grant. There is a cost associated.”

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith