Expanded Pell grant program benefits inmates

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Siena Heights University in Adrian will join three other colleges in the state offering federally funded Pell grants for incarcerated people, and Mott Community College plans to add a bachelor’s degree program for prisoners by next year. 

Congress prohibited inmates from receiving Pell grants in 1994 but allowed them for some higher education institutions again under the Obama administration’s Second Chance Pell program in 2015. That program is expanding.

It’s an initiative to assist inmates at federal and state prisons in receiving aid to cover the cost of college expenses. 

Mary Cusack is the Second Chance Pell Program coordinator at Mott Community College, which has been running its program for Thumb Correctional Facility inmates in Lapeer since 2017.

Mott offers an associate degree with business management and social work technician majors with the correctional facility.

She said Mott is working to finalize a separate bachelor degree partner to offer a business bachelor’s degree program by next year.

Cusack said Mott has had 37 inmates finish degrees since the program started, and nine more will graduate by the summer semester. 

“It’s been a hugely successful program, and I love it,” Cusack said. “It’s so rewarding because these guys love learning and they do a fantastic job. Most of them are graduating with honors. It’s just phenomenal.”

Delta College has also seen success through Pell grant programs because of its commitment and successful partnership with Saginaw Correctional Facility in Tittabawassee Township, according to Associate Professor Jason Lijewski. 

Lijewski said 17 inmates to date have completed the associate degree in entrepreneurship program.

“This program emphasizes skills in entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, along with the ability to analyze the role of entrepreneurship in society,” Lijewski said. 

According to Chris Gautz, the communications director of the Department of Corrections, 485 men and 102 women across 10 prisons in the state have received grants under the Second Chance program.

Corrections Director Heidi Washington said, “It is a huge opportunity for us to have a positive impact with collaborations with various institutions in higher learning around the state.” 

She said, “Michigan received more Pell grants for one institution than any other state, and that was Jackson College.”

Mary Gould, the director of the Denver-based Alliance for Higher Education in Prison, said the organization is concerned about other aspects of the program, such as access, equity and equality. 

“We’re interested in ensuring the same practices of inclusion and prioritizing students with privilege, whether that’s racial or economic,” Gould said. “We know that mostly across every state, it’s primarily Black and brown people who are incarcerated.

“It’s important to ensure equitable representation of students inside prison classrooms and that the educational opportunities that are afforded to them are on par with what’s available on a high-quality college or university campus,” she said.

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