Higher education in prison programs are receiving significant attention in light of the restoration of Pell grants, but the provision of reentry support and continuing education post release has only recently become a focus of the field. From complex college application systems and financial aid processes to meeting basic needs, students face a range of obstacles that may prevent them from completing their degrees after incarceration.

Building pathways that specifically support students in achieving their educational goals post-release will be essential to long-term, successful outcomes. Currently, a significant knowledge and service gap exists in the reentry infrastructure: despite their curricular expertise, higher education in prison programs are often not equipped with the expertise or capacity to support students through the reentry process. On the other hand, community-based organizations can provide assistance with housing, employment, food security, access to healthcare, among other services, but lack the expertise to support individuals through the complexities of the higher education system.

Collaborative partnerships between higher education in prison programs and community-based organizations could provide a solution for students aiming to obtain degrees after incarceration—yet these organizations rarely work together. With funding from ECMC Foundation, we’re embarking on a project to make higher education after reentry more accessible by fostering partnerships to build bridges from prisons to campuses that support student persistence and completion.

What’s next

To support retention, educational attainment, and student success after incarceration, the project will conduct three case studies of existing partnerships between colleges and reentry organizations to document the challenges and identify strategies for effective knowledge and resource sharing.

Drawing on Ithaka S+R’s extensive experience conducting large scale cohort-based projects, we will recruit and convene a cohort of 9-10 pairs of organizations (i.e. pairs of colleges/higher education in prison programs and community-based organizations specializing in reentry) that are at an early stage of partnership to foster co-learning, establish best practices, and build towards sustainability.

The project findings will be made publicly available in a playbook which will serve as a sector-wide resource for the implementation and broader adoption of these partnerships. If you have any questions or interest in the project, feel free to reach out to Kurtis Tanaka (Kurtis.Tanaka@ithaka.org).