Pell Grant “Experimentation” May Go Beyond Expanding Access to the Incarcerated

Big news today in the world of correctional education, with the Wall Street Journal, Politico, and others reporting that the Obama administration is about to announce an “experimental” program to expand incarcerated adults’ access to Pell grants. (Congress made federal and state prisoners ineligible for federal financial aid back in the mid-1990s.) According to these sources, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is scheduled to make “an important announcement related to federal aid” during a visit to a Maryland prison on Friday.

While the attention this week is on incarcerated adults, the administration’s Pell “experimentation” may eventually extend into other areas. Speculation yesterday about the administration announcing a plan to restore access to Pell for prisoners was prompted by a speech Duncan gave earlier in the day — while mainly focused on higher education outcomes, there was a brief aside towards the end about how the administration was looking to “experiment” with expanded Pell access. But that part of the speech, excerpted below, was not only about expanding Pell access to incarcerated adults:

We want to do even more, developing experimental sites that will make Pell grants available to programs that award credentials based on demonstrated competency, to incarcerated adults seeking an independent, productive life after they get out of jail, and to adult learners who enroll in short-term certificate programs that provide meaningful job-ready training. (my emphasis)

So stay tuned. The news this week may be the first of several Pell announcements with significant implications for adult learners.