Indiana University of Pennsylvania is one of four universities in Pennsylvania and one of 67 in the nation selected for a national program designed to offer federal Pell grants to incarcerated students.

The initiative, the Second Chance Pell pilot program, allows eligible and qualified incarcerated Americans to receive Pell Grants to pursue postsecondary education.

Information about the program was announced June 24, 2016 by the U.S. Department of Education.

IUP will work with students currently housed in state correctional institutions in Houtzdale and Indiana (Pine Grove). Students will be taking courses via computer (distance learning) and will be enrolled in the associate of arts, general studies major. The program is designed for individuals who are likely to be released within five years of enrolling in coursework.

Approximately 30 students are expected to begin IUP coursework in the spring 2017 semester.

“I'm pleased and proud that IUP was selected for this important initiative,” IUP President, Michael Driscoll, said. “I want to thank the members of the IUP team responsible for this proposal: Jon Lewis, Jamie Martin, Randy Martin and Ragan Griffin.”

U.S. Department of Education officials noted that the selected universities demonstrated a focus on supporting successful reentry through partnerships with the correctional institutions, community-based organizations, local non-profits and foundations and presented an ability to provide robust academic, career and social support services to facilitate postsecondary persistence and completion. Affordability was also a factor in selecting universities for the initiative.

“It is clear that selection for this program reflects IUP's outstanding reputation not only for providing quality academics, but for providing support to students and working closely with our community for the betterment of our commonwealth and our nation,” Driscoll said.

According to the Department of Education, the United States currently has the highest incarceration rate in the world with approximately 2.2 million people incarcerated in American prisons and jails.

A 2013 study by the RAND Corporation, 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.

In making the announcement, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. praised the universities selected for the program.

“The evidence is clear. Promoting education and job training for incarcerated individuals makes communities safer by reducing recidivism and saves taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration. I applaud the institutions that have partnered to develop high-quality programs that will equip these students with invaluable learning. The knowledge and skills they acquire will promote successful reintegration and enable them become active and engaged citizens.”

Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Wolf thanked the institutions selected for this initiative in a press release issued June 24, 2016.

“More than 90 percent of the 48,000 individuals behind bars in Pennsylvania will leave prison one day,” said Governor Wolf. “It's no secret that achieving basic literacy and completing high school are positive indicators of future success and reduced recidivism. Having a college degree or certificate in hand will give those individuals an even greater chance for successful reintegration and to become productive members of society. I thank the incredible institutions of higher learning who've partnered with us in this effort.”

Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel also voiced his support for the program in the press release from Governor Wolf.

“With 20,000 individuals leaving our institutions every year the DOC has placed a heavy focus on reentry and removing barriers to reentry,” Wetzel said.

“For the last 22 years, college education was out of reach for most inmates who had to cover the costs themselves. Through this partnership with participating colleges and universities we can expand access to high quality education programs that will give individuals the skills they need to become tax payers rather than tax burdens.”

For the past three years, IUP has worked with Secretary Wetzel in the “Time To Lead” initiative to create new opportunities for students of color and to help them meet their educational goals and become leaders. Secretary Wetzel served as IUP's May commencement speaker and received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the university.