News & Events / “It Saved My Life:” New Framework Measures the Rehabilitative and Restorative Impacts Of Higher Education In Prison

“It Saved My Life:” New Framework Measures the Rehabilitative and Restorative Impacts Of Higher Education In Prison

Published Sep 15, 2020
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WASHINGTON, DC (September 15, 2020) – Nearly ninety-four percent of the people currently incarcerated across the United States do not have a postsecondary degree, despite the research indicating that higher education in prison decreases rates of reincarceration by improving chances of meaningful employment, stable housing, and successful reintegration in families and communities upon release. In the words of one recent graduate of University of Iowa’s Liberal Arts Behind Bars program(link is external): “[College] saved my life and personally helped me to become the person that I am today.”

A report released today by the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) recognizes the transformative potential of higher education beyond recidivism metrics and sets forth guidance to properly identify and benchmark quality higher education in prison (HEP) nationwide. Supporting Success: The Higher Education in Prison Key Performance Indicator Framework outlines a comprehensive set of performance indicators that will help HEP programs generate long-needed data to inform program quality, develop robust standards of practice, and ensure quality outcomes for students.

“The power of higher education to change one’s trajectory in life is perhaps nowhere more visible – or more needed – than in our nation’s correctional facilities,” said Michelle Asha Cooper, IHEP’s President. “Those facilities disproportionately incarcerate Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other people of color, as well as people from low socioeconomic backgrounds – in other words, the very populations that have been historically excluded from our system of higher education. ‘Success’ for these students means far more than not ending up back in prison. Our framework captures the complexities of the impact of higher education in prison and will support quality programs that open doors to students while promoting a more equitable society.”

“While deeply encouraging, the recent expansion of Second Chance Pell sites and increasing bipartisan interest in permanently restoring Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated students both underscore the critical need to ensure accurate measurement of HEP outcomes,” noted Julie Ajinkya, IHEP’s Vice President of Applied Research. “In 2019, nearly 17,000 students across the United States received federal Pell Grants to support them in earning a higher education degree while incarcerated in a correctional facility. As that number grows, practitioners and policymakers alike need the comprehensive data our KPI framework will produce to assess baselines, measure improvement, and continuously enhance educators’ ability to support their students’ success.”

Developed by experienced HEP practitioners, data experts, and dedicated advocates, with input from students who are incarcerated, the framework outlines metrics in four assessment categories: student success outcomes; academic quality; civic engagement; and soft skills, the non-technical and interpersonal proficiencies identified by employers as essential for success in today’s workplace. In addition to listing and defining the indicators in the four assessment categories, the report includes recommendations for practitioners, correctional administrators, and state and federal policymakers.

The KPI framework development was supported by Ascendium Education Group(link is external), whose work identifies, validates, and expands best practices to promote large-scale change at the institutional, system, and state levels, with the intention of elevating opportunity for all.