WASHINGTON, D.C. — This past Wednesday, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona held a virtual roundtable to showcase the importance of providing Pell Grants for incarcerated individuals by speaking with students and former students who took college courses in prison.
This session allowed the Secretary to hear directly from students who have gone through college in prison programs and provided insight on how we can best serve these students going forward.
Secretary Cardona launched the discussion and listened as the students shared their stories.
“I am so glad to be here to talk with you today and thank each of you for your willingness to share your stories with me. College in prison programs have an important mission that I strongly believe in. I know how important teachers and professors are and the effect they have in all our life trajectories – and I want more incarcerated adults to have access to high-quality educational programs while they’re in prison.”
One by one the formerly incarcerated students shared their stories of education triumph, as well as the many challenges they faced trying to meet their educational goals.
Daniela Medina, from California, said she dropped out of high school and eventually was incarcerated. During her incarceration, she said she earned her GED, which led to her thirst for education and the longing to bringing something positive back to her family once she got out of prison.
“Three years before I got paroled, Feather River College in Quincy, California, came into the prison and said they were only accepting 60 students out of the 3,000 women who were incarcerated. I was very fortunate to be one of the chosen,” Medina said.
Medina said that having the opportunity to pursue an education while incarcerated filled her with confidence and changed her perspective about herself.
“I no longer felt like I was just incarcerated or an incarcerated person,” she said. “I felt like I was a scholar and part of the student body on a college campus.”
Medina graduated magna cum laude with a BASW from UC Berkeley in 2019. She recently graduated with her master’s in social work from UC Berkeley and was awarded the 2021 Social Welfare Dean’s Award for Social Justice.
All the students overwhelmingly agreed that more resources are needed to help bond colleges with prisons so more incarcerated individuals have access to quality education.
Cardona closed the roundtable reaffirming his commitment to providing Pell Grants for incarcerated students.
“I am inspired by what I’ve heard today about the importance of this issue and the continued need for access to Pell for incarcerated students. I am committed to ensuring that the Department works to serve currently- and formerly incarcerated students well, and to increasing access to high-quality post-secondary education for these students.”
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is currently running the Second Chance Pell Experiment that allows about 100 colleges to offer Pell Grants to incarcerated individuals. In the coming years, ED will be implementing a change Congress made in December 2020 that removes a legislative ban that prevented incarcerated students outside the experiment from receiving access to this aid.
The Biden administration has proposed historic investments in our education system, including increasing the maximum Federal Pell Grant by $1400.
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