Cuesta College and CampusLogic Talk Second Chance Pell

Tracy Skochil

In June of this year, 67 colleges and universities were selected to participate in an Experimental Sites Initiative “test[ing] the effectiveness of statutory and regulatory flexibility for institutions of higher education that disburse Federal student aid.” Known as the Second Chance Pell pilot, the initiative allows selected institutions to partner with 100+ federal and state penal institutions to enroll roughly 12,000 incarcerated students.

Second Chance Pell: Goals

The pilot program aims to “test new models to allow incarcerated Americans to receive Pell Grants and pursue postsecondary education with the goal of helping them get jobs, support their families, and turn their lives around,” reads the July 2015 press release. Reduced re-incarceration rates can lead to safer communities and reduced taxpayer burden.

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world—more than 2.2 million people. The Second Chance Pell project restores educational opportunities for some of those individuals. Qualifications for incarcerated individuals includes:

  • Must meet Title IV eligibility requirements
  • Are eligible for release, particularly in the next five years

Societal Benefits To Providing Education To Inmates

The study “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education” produced important findings about the benefits of providing high-quality education to inmates, including:

  • Improves inmates’ chance of not returning to prison
  • Inmates who participate in correctional education programs had a 43 percent lower odds of recidivating (relapsing into criminal behavior) than those who did not—a reduction in the risk of recidivating of 13 percentage points.
  • May improve an inmate’s chance of obtaining employment post-release.

Qualifications For Higher Education Institutions

A full list of the requirements for colleges and universities to participate in the pilot can be found here. Participating institutions commit to investing time, resources, and personnel to ensure correctional institutions are fully supported. This includes assisting with awareness efforts, counseling potential students on FAFSA submittal, and “inform[ing] students of the academic and financial options available if they are not able to complete the academic program while incarcerated.”

CampusLogic customer Cuesta College is one of the selected. “We’re set to go live this Spring, in partnership with California Men’s Colony (CMC),” says Cuesta’s Director of Financial Aid, Patrick Scott. CMC is part of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Second Chance Pell Poses Unique Challenges For FA Offices

Participation in the Second Chance Pell pilot will require financial aid staff at participating colleges and universities to engage directly with inmates, which raises new issues. “It’s a unique set of students with a very different set of needs than institutions are used to,” says Amy Glynn, VP of Financial Aid and Community Initiatives at CampusLogic. Examples include:

  • Inability to use the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT)
    • Individuals with zero income cannot use the DRT
    • Individuals reporting zero income AND do not use the DRT are more likely to be selected for verification
  • Confirmation of Non-Filing Status Letter From IRS
    • As of 17/18, individuals who are non-tax filers are required to get a confirmation of non-filing status letter from the IRS
    • The individual must request the letter, they cannot use a proxy
    • The individual can request the letter either online or via phone
  • General Paperwork & Form Submission
    • Inmates will need to sign and submit forms in regards to student verification, requiring access to fax machines, scanners, and computers
    • In-person  bring them the paper forms and handle this on their end.
  • Followup on Outstanding Tasks
    • May be difficult for schools to remind inmates that they have outstanding tasks to complete for verification, as the usual routes are mail, email and text alert (for CampusLogic customers)

Cuesta College’s Experiences Thus Far

“I just received a hand-written notice on paper, mailed to me from an inmate interested in the program,” says Scott. “The internal policy at CMC is very strict, and everything we do for this program must be paper-based or in-person.” He agrees that the DRT usage is “completely impossible” for this group, but notes that “their V6 concerns will be pretty obvious to answer.”  He also agrees that the non-filing letters from the IRS will be a speed bump for many.

Cuesta is using a rounded approach that includes in-person sessions. “We’ll be meeting them in-person, in groups, to help with applications and more. Verification will certainly be difficult; we’re thinking we may have to do student verification in a big group.”

Scott notes that there is a counsellor at CMC who sends messages back and forth, but communication is, understandably, slow. “Mailing back and forth is delayed, simply due to the precautions in place,” he explains.

In California, all of the schools participating in the Second Chance Pell Program collaborate via a series of webinars with the head of correctional education in the state.  “We’re always talking about things like technology. There’s a suggestion to implement e-readers, which may change how books and supplies are handled. The webinars are a great collaboration tool.”

CampusLogic Can Make Second Chance Pell Participation Easier

Scott, a CampusLogic customer, wishes he could use the StudentForms technology to streamline the experience, but it’s not possible for him. “Other institutions are allowing inmates to complete their FAFSA online and use online resources,” he notes. “In those cases, CampusLogic’s technology can make all of the back-and-forth simpler, faster, and intuitive.”

Glynn also points to the potential to empower Financial Aid Officers with access to CampusLogic to train a proxy at the prison on how to navigate student verification through the guided experience. “It’s such an easy product to use, it could really streamline the experience for the inmate—if the corrections’ facility is on-board.”

Financial aid offices at institutions participating in this pilot need to find time to devote to its success. One way to free up time is by improving efficiencies in your dealings with existing students, and CampusLogic can help.

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