New federal pilot project restores Pell Grants for prisoners

Pell GrantsAlthough a college education is not for everyone, it can be a very beneficial use of the time that many people spend behind bars. To help inmates cover the cost of that education, the Obama Administration created the Second Chance Pell pilot program, with 67 participating colleges and universities announced late last month.

Pell Grants are given by the U.S. federal government to students with financial need and they do not need to be repaid. Before 1995 prisoners had access to these grants, but the passage of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act brought an end to the practice. Over the years there have been efforts to restore them, and more than two decades later, Pell Grants for prisoners are back again.

The colleges and universities chosen to participate will partner with more than 100 federal and state penal institutions to enroll roughly 12,000 incarcerated students in educational and training programs. These institutions may provide federal Pell Grants to qualified students who are incarcerated and are likely to be released within five years of enrolling in coursework.

“Access to high quality education is vital to ensuring that justice-involved individuals have an opportunity to reclaim their lives and restore their futures,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

“Through this partnership with the Department of Education and institutions of higher learning around the country, this program will help give deserving incarcerated individuals the skills to live lives of purpose and contribute to society upon their release.”

Most programs classroom-based

Most of the schools are public two-year and four-year institutions that will offer classroom-based instructions on-site at various corrections facilities. Others plan to offer online education or a combination of both classroom and online instruction. About 37 percent of the schools will offer prison-based education for the first time. Although it depends on the institution, schools could begin offering education and training programs as early as July 1.

The colleges and universities selected for the pilot project include Auburn University in Alabama, Bennington College in Vermont, California State University Los Angeles, Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College in Minnesota, Marymount Manhattan College in New York, Rutgers in New Jersey and Tulsa Community College in Oklahoma, among many others.

Research has proved that educating prisoners pays off. A 2013 study from the RAND Corp., funded by the Department of Justice, found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who did not participate in any correctional education programs. RAND also estimated that for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, four to five dollars are saved on three-year re-incarceration costs.

Recognizing the economic and social benefits of education for prisoners, the Pell Grant pilot project will build on the Obama Administration’s commitment to create a fairer and more effective criminal justice system, reduce recidivism, and combat the impact of mass incarceration on families and communities through educational opportunity.

 

Career Online High School offers education at local libraries

libraries

Los Angeles Public Library held a graduation ceremony for its first Career Online High School Class early this year. It was officiated by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Librarian John F. Szabo, Board of Library Commissioners President Bich Ngoc Cao and State Librarian of California Greg Lucas.

 

Although libraries are continually reinventing themselves to meet the needs of the 21st century, serving as a high school has to be one of the most unique ideas yet.

As part of the first program of its type anywhere, a growing number of libraries across the U.S. are offering their patrons a chance to earn a high school diploma.

It’s called Career Online High School and combines a high school education – culminating in a diploma not a GED – along with additional specialization in one of eight in-demand career fields. These career certificates, ranging from certified transportation services to retail customer service skills, give graduates an extra edge when they search for employment upon graduation or a head start if they decide to go on for further education or training.

Developed in 2012 by Cengage Learning and Smart Horizons Career Online Education, the Career Online High School program was adapted for the public library market by Gale, a division of Cengage Learning, in 2014.

Currently more than 70 public libraries offer Career Online High School, with nearly 1,000 students and more than 130 graduates nationwide so far.

Libraries adapt to changing needs

The program is part of the ever-evolving mission of libraries determined to adapt to the changing needs of their patrons.

“In 2008 with the recession, libraries were impacted. A lot of libraries were seeing a ton more traffic than before,” said Phil Faust, vice president and publisher for databases at Gale. “What we saw in the market was a changing of the needs. People were coming and looking for help finding new jobs. They’d been in an industry like the automotive industry and never done anything else but had now been laid off.

“Libraries across the country started switching their programming and focus to educating the community, high school completion, things like that.”

And Career Online High School is one of the best examples of this.

How it works for a library and its students

Gale partners with libraries that are interested and guides them through an eight-week start-up and training process. Each library is provided a different package, depending on the number of seats (space for students) it wants. Some libraries have 25 students, while others will buy upwards of 200 seats at a time.

The students begin with a pre-requisite program, going through a sample class that shows them what it’s like to participate and allows the library to evaluate whether they qualify.

If accepted into the program, a student will have 18 months to complete it. All instruction is online, and students can either do the work at home or entirely at the library, if they have no computer or Internet access otherwise. Each student is given a scholarship, which comes out of the library’s budget, so there is no cost to them. Some libraries, including the San Diego Public Library, encourage members of the community to support the program by paying for a scholarship.

Gale offers support through representatives who work with the individual libraries, but it also offers support to individual students.

“We have dedicated academic coaches (provided by Smart Horizons) assigned to every student who takes the program. Their job is to assist them to make sure they’re successful and get through the program,” said Faust.

Los Angeles Public Library, one of the early adopters of Career Online High School, held a graduation ceremony in January for its first class of 28 students.

“L.A. is a city of second chances, and our libraries are a vital resource to help level the playing field of opportunity,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti at the ceremony. “As today’s graduates complete their secondary education through the Career Online High School, we are inspired by the power of these types of programs to transform the lives of Angelenos.”

And as more libraries sign on to the program, Career Online High School is in the process of transforming the lives of people not just in Los Angeles, but across the U.S.

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Students or libraries interested in more information can contact Gale.

Online campus in Florida prisons

In addition to libraries, this program is being used by the Florida Department of Corrections. Known as FDOC Online Campus it operates at 15 facilities across the state. About 1,100 inmates have received diplomas during the the four years that the program has been in existence.

 

Obtaining your GED

Obtaining your California High School Equivalency Certificate (GED)

Some general information regarding the General Education Development Test (GED) that may be taken by students 18 years old and older for the purpose of receiving the California High School Equivalency Certificate.

Millions of people like you have taken the GED Tests to get a better job, continue their eduction, or to feel better about themselves. You can take the GED Tests almost anywhere in the United States and Canada, as well as at more than 100 sites internationally. GED Testing Centers can often help to find you instruction so that you’re prepared to pass the GED Tests. They can also arrange for changes in the way GED Tests are administered if you have a documented disability.

The GED Tests measure your knowledge and academic skills against those of today’s traditional high school graduates. You’ll be able to learn what to expect when you take the GED Tests, where to find a GED Testing Center, what your scores mean when you receive them in the mail, and how to use your GED credential to enroll in a college or university program of your choice, by accessing the following Web sites:

California Department of Education
American Council on Education
GED Practice Test – Includes practice GED test questions.

Khan Academy
Make use of their extensive video library, practice exercises, and assessments from any computer with access to the web all for free. Their video library covers k–12 math, science topics such as biology, chemistry, and physics, and even reaches into the humanities with playlists on finance and history. Each of the 2,100+ videos is a digestible chunk, approximately 10 minutes long, and especially purposed for viewing on the computer.


For help with basic reading and writing skills check out:

Literacy for Every Adult Program (LEAP), City of Richmond

LEAP is a free program sponsored by the Richmond Public Library in which tutors and learners work one-on-one or in small groups. LEAP’s purpose is to help adults develop the skills and confidence they need to achieve their individual goals.

The California Library Literacy Program

California Library Literacy Services (CLLS) is a program of the California State Library. The mission of CLLS is to enable Californians of all ages to reach their literacy goals and use library services effectively. California has approximately 3.4 million adults with below basic literacy skills. Over 100 CLLS libraries serve nearly 20,000 adults annually in over 800 library branches and other outlets statewide. As a result, these adults are voting for the first time, reading newspapers, reading aloud to their children, and securing jobs.

To find a literacy program in other parts of the country check out the National Institute for Literacy

Is a college degree necessary to get a good job?

MP900314164Many college grads are deep in debt with college loans these days. You’ve heard the news. They can’t find a job. Living at home. Some have given up and don’t know what to do.

Which brings up the question: Is a college education really necessary? Can you get a good job without it?

Although there are a lot of conflicting opinions, the answer is basically yes, you can get a good job without a college education. In fact for those in reentry, it might be better to look toward an apprenticeship, certificate program or other specialized training that will lead to a specific job.

High dropout rates, excessive debt

Going the college route, in fact, can be a gamble, with the chances of graduation not guaranteed. According to the Institute of Education Sciences of the National Center for Education Statistics, (part of the U.S. Department of Education), only 59% of first-time, full-time undergraduate students who began their college education in 2006 had graduated by 2012.

And on top of that, 71% of those who did graduate from four-year colleges in 2012 carried student debt, according to the Project on Student Debt of the Oakland, Calif.-based Institute for College Access & Success. The average debt level for graduates was $29,400, a 25% increase over the amount of debt graduates carried in 2008.

To make matters worse, according to a 2014 Accenture college graduate employment survey, 41% of recent college graduates are earning $25,000 or less.

Although even with a degree many recent college grads can’t find work, the unemployment situation may ease a bit, if job creation forecasts are any indication.

Job creation forecasts show hope

In “Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020,” a study released by the Center on Education and the Workforce of Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute, the U.S. economy will grow to 165 million jobs by 2020. This is a nearly 18% increase over the number in 2012.

During this time period there will be 55 million job openings as a result of baby boomers retiring and the creation of new positions.

Of the upcoming job openings:

36% will not require any education beyond high school

35% will require at least a bachelor’s degree

30% will require an associate’s degree or some college

If the total number of jobs are broken down by occupation, these are the ones in which workers are least likely to need a college degree. The numbers are the percentages of the total number of jobs that only will require a high school diploma or less.

  • Health care support: 42%
  • Transportation and utilities services: 45%
  • Manufacturing 47%
  • Leisure and hospitality: 50%
  • Food and personal services: 57%
  • Construction: 63%
  • Natural resources: 66%
  • Blue collar trades: 66%

No college degree required for these good jobs

Among some of the specific jobs that only require a high school diploma – according to analysis by Careerbuilder.com that was included in an August Forbes.com website article – are:

  • Transportation, storage and distributions managers. Median hourly pay: $39.27
  • Gaming managers. Median hourly pay: $31.99
  • Real estate broker. Median hourly pay: $29.48
  • Construction and extraction worker supervisor. Median hourly pay: $29.20
  • Legal support workers. Median hourly pay: $26.97
  • Postal service mail carriers. Median hourly pay: $26.75

Although these jobs don’t formally require more than a high school diploma, some jobs do require on-the-job training or participation in an apprenticeship program. The advantage is that the training is a part of paid employment, unlike a college or even a community college education. And the effort will often result in steady, well paying jobs that, for the most part, are expected to remain in demand.

Visit your nearest American Job Center to find out more about the training and apprenticeship programs your area.

 

Back on Track LA receives Second Chance Act funding

Graphic courtesy Johnson County Justice Center, Iowa City, Iowa.

Graphic courtesy Johnson County Justice Center, Iowa City, Iowa.

The California Attorney General’s Office has been awarded nearly $750,000 in federal grant funds for Back on Track LA, a recidivism reduction pilot program. The program is one of only four in the nation to receive the funding, granted through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Second Chance Act.

Back on Track LA, being developed by the California Department of Justice, has been designed to deliver critical educational and comprehensive re-entry services pre- and post-release.

It will build on the L.A. Sheriff Department’s Education Based Incarceration Program by working in partnership with several educational institutions. One of these, the Five Keys Charter School – established in 2003 in San Francisco as the nation’s first charter school to operate within a county jail and now with a site in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department – will be geared towards those without a high-school diploma or GED.

Others, Los Angeles Mission College and Los Angeles Trade-Technical College in the Los Angeles Community College District and College of the Canyons in the Santa Anita Community College District, will provide higher education opportunities that include prerequisites for community college degrees, credentials and certificates.

Among other partners are the Ford Foundation, Rosenberg Foundation, California Community Foundation, California Wellness Foundation and the California Endowment.

Program participants – non-serious, non-violent and non-sexual crime offenders between 18 and 30 years old who are incarcerated in the LASD jail system – will be enrolled in the Back on Track LA pilot program for 24 to 30 months. Twelve to18 of these months will be while they are in custody and 12 months while out of custody.

“As the largest Probation Department in the nation, we are pleased to partner in the Back on Track LA program which will allow us to have further impact on the transition of inmates back in to the community by offering case management services directly inside the custody setting such as cognitive behavioral therapy and other mental health services,” said L.A.’s Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers when the announcement was made late last month. “Upon release, the probation team will also be able to assist in linking inmates to additional services in the community.”

The Second Chance Act, signed into law in 2008, provides funds to improve outcomes for those previously incarcerated as they reintegrate into their communities. Through a competitive grant process, this legislation authorizes federal grants to government and nonprofit agencies working to reduce recidivism by those returning to local communities from prison, jails and juvenile facilities.

Back on Track LA follows in the footsteps of a San Francisco program with the same name created in 2005 by former San Francisco District Attorney and current California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Developed for certain low-level, non-violent drug offenders, it reduced recidivism among its graduates to less than 10 percent over a two-year period.

In November 2013, Attorney General Harris also established the California Division of Recidivism Reduction and Re-Entry, an office designed to curb recidivism in the state by partnering with counties and district attorneys on best practices and policy initiatives.

The new division is tasked with the development of a statewide definition of recidivism, identifying grants to fund the creation and expansion of innovative anti-recidivism programs and using technology to facilitate more effective data analysis and recidivism metrics.

 

Project Rebound helps formerly incarcerated get college education

rebound_homeLack of an education is one of a multitude of barriers that those coming out of jail or prison face. A college degree may seemingly be out of reach for many ex-offenders, but not those who participate in San Francisco State University’s Project Rebound.

This innovative program has a long history and a bright future as a blueprint for similar endeavors elsewhere.

It was founded in 1967 by John Irwin, who, after a five year stint at Soledad Prison, went to college, earned a PhD and became a noted sociologist and San Francisco State professor. He also saw the need to create a means of helping other ex-offenders get  — or complete — an education post-release.

Program has helped hundreds

With the vision of turning former prisoners to scholars, Project Rebound, now part of Associated Students Inc., the student government organization, has helped hundreds of formerly incarcerated people earn four-year degrees.

In the past eight years alone, since current Executive Director Jason Bell took over, more than 100 people have graduated from San Francisco State and more than 300 have been admitted as part of the program. Getting into San Francisco State is not easy for many applicants, but it can be especially difficult for those just out of prison, since they may have a lot of gaps in their educational experience.

Part of special admissions 

To help them, Project Rebound acts as part of a special admissions program. “They have admissions assigned to special caseloads,” Bell says. “We do additional advocacy for our students, just like is done for athletes and international students. Sometimes, if the person is outright denied at first, we can fight for them.”

In fact, that happens quite a lot, he adds. He and his staff of four – all formerly incarcerated themselves — recruit potential students by visiting local jails and prisons like San Quentin, where they talk to inmates and distribute fliers.

The program has become so well known that Bell says they get letters from every prison in California and also from some out of state, since California is sending some of its prisoners to out-of-state facilities in the name of population reduction.

Sometimes Bell’s staff corresponds with prisoners for years before they get out, helping them prepare the way for their future education. “Many of them can go straight into San Francisco State within months, or within the same year, of getting out,” he says. Once the program participants are admitted to S.F. State, they get special assistance with such things as lunches and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) passes, as well as $200 for books, all thanks to grants from such outside funders as the Columbia Foundation and the Registry Foundation.

Interns work one-on-one with Project Rebound students

S.F. State student interns – 40 in the second semester of 2013 – work one-on-one with Project Rebound students to help them navigate the system when they’re new and connect them with tutors and other services to help them succeed.

Although due to a lack of resources, the program does not offer any job placement, but Bell says that recently he’s been getting emails from ex-offender friendly employers who are interested in allowing people a fair chance at employment.

Over its nearly half century of existence, Project Rebound has changed the lives of more people than it can count. And it will achieve an even wider reach by assisting other colleges that want to launch similar programs. Bell and his team helped New Jersey’s Rutgers University establish a program about five years ago, and are working with Cal State University Fullerton and San Diego State University on a similar effort to help formerly incarcerated individuals in southern California get a college education. For more information contact:

Project Rebound
Associated Students Inc.
Cesar Chavez Student Center
1650 Holloway Avenue, T-138
San Francisco, CA 94132-1722
(415) 405-0954, FAX: (415) 338-0522
E-mail: projectrebound@asi.sfsu.edu
Web: http://asi.sfsu.edu/asi/programs/proj_rebound/about.html
 

Struggle to restore federal Pell Grants to inmates continues

While giving inmates access to higher education should be a no brainer, it’s become an uphill battle. Take, for example, the struggle to restore Pell Grants to those in prison.

Before 1995, prisoners had access to Pell Grants, federal financial aid packages that are awarded to students from low-income families and don’t have to be repaid. The passage of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, however, changed all that and prevented giving Pell Grants to prisoners.

According to a Quick & the Ed blog article of Nov. 5 by Education Sector Policy Analyst Sarah Rosenberg, before 1995 there were about 350 college programs for prisoners in the U.S. In 2005 there were 12.

While the maximum amount of a Federal Pell Grant is currently $5,500, the average cost of incarcerating a prisoner is about ten times that.

Many studies have shown that education, especially post-secondary education, plays a vital role in reducing recidivism, saving the federal government and the states millions of dollars each year.

Although these grants may not pay the entire cost of a higher education in prison, they would go a long way towards supporting the programs. And even in 1994 at the height of the program, awards to prisoners represented only one-tenth of 1 percent of all Pell Grants given out.

Leading the charge to restore the Pell Grants to prisoners is the Education From the Inside Coalition based in the New York City area.

The coalition organized “Pell Grants and Prison Education: How Pell Grant Access in Prison Transforms Lives,” a panel discussion at Rutgers University in early December.

The restoration of the Pell Grants to prisoners is “one of the most important dialogues we can have in the context of law enforcement. I think that education in our prisons is the key to preventing recidivism,” said John J. Farmer, Jr., Dean of the Rutgers School of Law and former New Jersey attorney general, as reported in the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange blog article of Dec. 10.

According to Education from the Inside Coalition, every dollar invested in correctional education programs saves two dollars in prevented recidivism.

Not only will restoring Pell Grant eligibility to inmates reduce recidivism, it will also increase employment rates after release, strengthen communities, reduce poverty and improve mental health.

For more information, visit Education From the Inside Out at http://www.eiocoalition.org

To sign a petition supporting the restoration of Pell Grant eligibility for prisoners, go to

http://www.change.org/petitions/the-u-s-senate-introduce-a-bill-to-restore-pell-grant-eligibility-to-incarcerated-students