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Published April 28, 2022
The University of Wyoming is one of 73 institutions of higher education chosen by the U.S. Department of Education to participate in the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative.
The action will help incarcerated individuals access educational programs as part of the Biden administration’s broader efforts to support reentry, empower formerly incarcerated persons, enhance public safety, and strengthen communities and the economy.
The U.S. Department of Education made the announcement April 26.
“Wyoming Pathways from Prison, UW’s prison education initiative, has been selected as an institution in the U.S. Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell program,” says Rob Colter, co-executive director of Wyoming Pathways from Prison and a senior lecturer in the UW Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies. “This is huge news for UW’s ability to serve some of our most marginalized and vulnerable people, and it allows us to move forward with programs that will help incarcerated students in Wyoming to earn college degrees.”
Wyoming Pathways from Prison provides high-quality college courses to incarcerated women and men at no cost through generous volunteer support provided by UW faculty, staff and students. The organization does this work because it believes strongly in the power of education to transform lives, both within and outside prison walls, by creating opportunities for skill-building, personal growth and self-reflection.
Selected colleges and universities will partner with federal and state penal institutions in almost all 50 states to enroll thousands of incarcerated students in educational and training programs. The vast majority of schools selected are two- and four-year public institutions. Twenty-four of the newly selected educational institutions are HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities) and minority-serving institutions. Selected schools may begin accessing Pell Grants as early as July 1.
The Department of Education also is announcing changes to policies to help incarcerated individuals with defaulted loans, including affirming that incarcerated individuals qualify for a “fresh start,” which returns borrowers with defaulted loans to repayment in good standing and allows them to access programs like the Second Chance Pell Experiment. The Department of Education also will allow incarcerated individuals to consolidate their loans to help them exit default in the long term.
“Access to high-quality postsecondary education is essential to incarcerated individuals. But, for far too long, people in prison were left out,” says U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “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.”
The Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative was first established in 2015 by the Obama administration to provide Pell Grants to incarcerated individuals to allow them to participate in postsecondary education programs. To date, students have earned over 7,000 credentials, building new skills and improving their odds of success through the initiative.
Wyoming Pathways from Prison emerged from an action research project that took place from December 2014 to August 2015, when Susan Dewey, Cathy Connolly, Bonnie Zare and Rhett Epler conducted in-depth, semistructured interviews with 71 women currently and formerly incarcerated in Wyoming. Results indicated great potential for success in providing increased educational opportunities to incarcerated women. Since summer 2016, Wyoming Pathways from Prison has consistently offered high-quality college courses at no cost to incarcerated women.