Obama plans college aid for prisoners

Some prison inmates will receive federal college aid, despite a 1994 law that cut off Pell Grants to prisoners. The Education Department says Pell for prisoners is legal under a waiver provision for experimental programs.

Before 1994, prisoners could use Pell Grants to cover tuitions, books and other education-related expenses. Online learning should make it easier and cheaper to provide coursework to inmates.

President Barack Obama tours a cell block at the Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Okla., on July 16. PHOTO: SAUL LOEB/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

President Obama tours a federal prison in Oklahoma on July 16. Photo: Saul Loeb, Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Under the Obama administration’s plan, grants of up to $5,775 a year would go directly to colleges and universities that provide courses to prisoners.

Of 700,000 prisoners released each year, more than 40 percent will be back behind bars within three years, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who announced the program at a Maryland prison on Friday.

“For every dollar invested in prison education programs, this saves taxpayers on average $5,” said Lois Davis, who authored a RAND study.  Inmates who take college classes are 16 percent less likely to return to prison, she estimated.

Congress provided nearly $300 million last year to fund job training and re-entry programs for prisoners, said Republican Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, in a statement.

Pell aid might be a “worthwhile idea for some prisoners,” but the administration has no authority to ignore the law, Alexander said. “Congress can address changes to Pell grants as part of the Senate education committee’s work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act this fall.”

Why college in high school mash-ups don’t work

The bipartisan “Go to High School, Go to College Act” would allow Pell Grants to fund college coursework for low-income high school students.

Karen Cordero, an earth science teacher at Bolton High School in Connecticut, leads her class in a simulated county planning meeting. (Photo: Peter Morenus/UConn)

Earth sciences teacher Karen Cordero teaches a college class  in environmental science at Bolton High in Connecticut. (Photo: Peter Morenus/UConn)

“High school-college mashups” — college work in a high school environment — don’t work, argues Georgi Boorman in The Federalist.

As an 11th- and 12th-grader, she attended community college, then finished a bachelor’s degree in two years. She supports letting college-ready students take real college courses taught by professors with college-age (and older) classmates.

But most high school students lack the academic skills and the maturity to handle classes on a college campus, she writes. These days, high schools are placing unprepared students in classes with a college label.

Given that more than a third of all freshmen entering universities have to take at least one remedial class, why should we trust high schools to provide college when they can’t provide sufficient instruction at the high-school level?

Many more students — including average and sometimes below-average achievers — are being urged to take Advanced Placement and dual-enrollment courses. At some low-performing schools, few AP students take the AP exam and even fewer pass.

Often dual-enrollment courses are taught at the high school, not on a college campus, because it so convenient. Sometimes, a “real professor” comes to the high school, but it’s easier to hire a high school teacher as an “adjunct.” Are these “real college” courses?

Pell Grants For Prisoners

What conditions are different from 1994 such that this program would now be considered?

The U.S. Department of Education is poised to announce a limited exemption to the federal ban on prisoners receiving Pell Grants to attend college while they are incarcerated.

Correctional education experts and other sources said they expect the department to issue a waiver under the experimental sites program, which allows the feds to lift certain rules that govern aid programs in the spirit of experimentation. If the project is successful, it would add to momentum for the U.S. Congress to consider overturning the ban it passed on the use of Pell for prisoners in 1994…

Even a limited experiment will provoke controversy. Spending government money on college programs for convicted criminals is an easy target for conservative pundits and for some lawmakers from both political parties…

The administration estimated that roughly 4,000 of the 60,000 incarcerated juvenile offenders would be eligible for federal aid. That investment makes sense, they said, given that it costs an average of $88,000 per year to lock up a juvenile offender. And inmates of all ages are half as likely to go back to jail if they take college courses.

Ed Trust: Cut aid to low-quality colleges

Cut federal grants, loans and tax benefits to “college dropout factories,” “diploma mills” and “engines of inequality,” argues Education Trust in a new report. The “engines” are institutions — including some state universities — that admit few low- and moderate-income students eligible for Pell Grants.

Pell aid goes up, but so does tuition

The near-doubling of Pell Grant funding hasn’t decreased borrowing by low-income students, who are supposed to be the beneficiaries. States have cut funding and colleges have raised tuition using federal aid to make up the difference.

Should college aid be linked to readiness?

Pell Grants help low- and moderate-income students go to college, but graduation rates are low. Should Pell dollars be targeted at college-ready students? That would lower the college-going rate significantly.

A new private scholarship fund will help “dreamers” — undocumented immigrants brought here as children — attend low-cost colleges to pursue work-oriented degrees.

Top ‘okay’ colleges

Nation’s Parents Release Annual Ranking Of Top 50 ‘Perfectly Good’ State Schools, reports The Onion. It’s satire, but it’s also true.

President Obama wants to rate colleges and universities on accessibility, affordability and student success. Very few schools offer all three, reports the American Enterprise Institute. For example, colleges with a high graduation rate tend to enroll few lower-income students, as measured by Pell Grant eligibility.

Only 19 colleges and universities enroll at least one-quarter Pell-eligible students, have at least a 50 percent graduation rate, and have a net price less than $10,000 a year, reports AEI. The list includes City University of New York (CUNY) and California State University schools, the University of  Washington’s Seattle and Bothell Campuses and West Virginia University. As The Onion puts it, these are “perfectly good” state schools.

Full-time college isn’t for everyone

Student retention has improved for “ASAP” students at New York City community colleges. The program requires students to enroll full-time and accept “intrusive” advising. But many nontraditional students can’t drop everything to go full-time.

President Obama’s college plan should include 45 million peanut-butter sandwiches a week for Pell Grant recipients, argues a community college professor. 

Student aid reforms proposed

A House education subcommittee heard proposals for reforming Pell Grants.

Income-based repayment gives the largest subsidies to borrowers who go to graduate or professional school and people in “public service” jobs. One in four jobs qualifies as “public service,” but working for a for-profit company is a disqualifier.

‘Paycheck’ aid shows promise

Disbursing student aid in smaller amounts every two weeks, “Aid Like a Paycheck,” encourages low-income college students to work harder in school and manage money better, a new study shows.

At a Hamilton Project forum today, participants presented new ideas for redesigning Pell Grants, income-based loan repayment and college cost calculators.