On September 29, we hosted a webinar, “Pell 101: Information for Librarians and Those Serving People in Prison,” to share information about the restoration of Pell funding for students who are incarcerated. Panelists included prison education journalist and Open Campus reporter Charlotte West, Vera Institute of Justice Associate Initiative Director Ruth Delaney, and NASFAA Education Specialist Sheila Meiman. We’re pleased to share the recording here.

Below, you will also find our panelists’ responses to questions raised during the webinar and a list of additional resources.


Does the fact that the Pell grant inside is less than outside affect an individual’s lifetime overall award?

Any use of Pell grants does impact a student’s Lifetime Eligibility Used (LEU) calculation. However, that limit is designed to support a student for the equivalent of six years of full-time enrollment in college. A part-time student will not use their full eligibility for each calendar year, so their eligibility could extend beyond six calendar years. It isn’t necessarily that the Pell award will be less for students in prison education programs (PEPs) compared to campus students with the same enrollment intensity. However, a high percentage of students who are in PEPs are attending part-time, so their LEU level would not be impacted as strongly as that of full-time students.

What information is needed to fill out the FAFSA?

First, the student will need to gather identity information. This includes the correct spelling of the name that appears on their social security card (this is often the birth name unless the student did a name change in person with the Social Security Administration. Note that legally changing a name does not automatically update SSA.) Their social security number (and alien registration number if applicable) is also essential. Second, students would benefit from knowing whether they filed taxes, even for just the stimulus, in the target year, which for academic year 2023-24 is the tax year 2021. If they did file taxes, and have access to the information on that form, that would also be helpful. And finally, students who have defaulted student debt would benefit if they attempt to enroll in the federal Fresh Start program as soon as possible.

How does sentence length or type impact eligibility?

It does not impact eligibility. There are no sentence or conviction-based restrictions on eligibility.

Wouldn’t all students who are incarcerated receive max Pell based on circumstance?

Pell awards are calculated based on a number of things including cost of attendance, enrollment status (full/part time, etc.), and a lookback period of two years of tax filings. There are instances where a person does not receive a full Pell award. For example, if a student enrolls in a college where the cost of attendance is lower than the maximum possible Pell award, the student would only receive the amount that would cover the cost of attendance. In this instance, the amount received would count as a maximum award even if it is less than the statutorily defined maximum dollar amount for Pell that year. If a student enrolls part time, they would receive an award scaled to their enrollment status. If they held a job in the community within the two year tax lookback, they may not qualify for a maximum award depending on their income.

Additional Resources

Reporting from Open Campus
Open Campus covers many of the key issues affecting students who are incarcerated, from Pell grants to tablets in prison. Explore selected stories from panelist Charlotte West and more.

Publications from the Vera Institute of Justice
The Vera Institute of Justice publishes reports and fact sheets from experts on Pell reinstatement and access for students in prison.

Resources on financial aid
For comprehensive information on financial aid for learners who are incarcerated, browse the following resources from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, Federal Student Aid, the Student Borrower Protection Center, and more.