Bipartisan Bill Supports College Access for the Incarcerated


Higher education is often a pathway to finding a job, owning a home, and earning higher wages throughout a person’s lifetime.

But access to higher education for the nation’s prison population has faced significant challenges over the past few decades.

A new bipartisan bill making its way through Congress would restore Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals, giving many the ability to pay for higher education and workforce training.

The Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act aims to reduce recidivism rates and incarceration costs by increasing access to higher education. It was recently introduced by US Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI, Mike Lee (R-UT), and Dick Durbin (D-IL).

Companion legislation in US House of Representatives is being led by Representatives Danny Davis (D-IL), Jim Banks (R-IN.), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and French Hill (R-AR).

“When we give people in prison an opportunity to earn an education, our communities are safer, taxpayers save money, and we can end the cycle of recidivism,” Schatz said in a news release. “The REAL Act would restore a program we know already works and give people a real chance to rebuild their lives.”

Pell grant assistance was taken away from incarcerated individuals in 1994. But in 2015, the tides started to turn.

The Obama administration announced a pilot program called Second Chance Pell, giving about 10,000 inmates access to grants and higher education. This experimental program is ongoing and would need action like the REAL Act to take it past the pilot phase.

NACAC, along with other leading education groups, endorses the REAL Act.

Ashley Dobson is NACAC’s senior communications manager for content and social media. You can reach her at

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