News & Events / New IHEP Research Initiative to Assess Impact of Prison-Based Postsecondary Education Programs

New IHEP Research Initiative to Assess Impact of Prison-Based Postsecondary Education Programs

Published Jul 19, 2018

Washington, D.C., July 19, 2018 —The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), with support from Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates, today announced a new research initiative to assess the impact of Higher Education in Prison (HEP) programs on promoting successful re-entry and post-release outcomes among incarcerated students. The two-year research initiative will identify key performance indicators that yield invaluable data to inform program quality, develop robust standards of practice, and, ultimately, improve student outcomes.

“Currently, the success of prison-based postsecondary education programs is rarely measured by indicators beyond reduction in recidivism,” said IHEP Vice President of Applied Research Julie Ajinkya, Ph.D. “But the impact of these programs can be remarkably transformative and extends to employment outcomes, civic engagement and increased participation in education after release. Practitioners and policymakers alike will benefit from a comprehensive set of performance indicators to guide their efforts at ensuring successful re-entry for incarcerated students.”

Little is known about the quality of higher education offered in prisons around the country and the impact of these programs on students’ post-release outcomes. A $1.8 million-dollar grant from Great Lakes will support the development of a Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) framework to aid HEP practitioners assess the impact of their programs and processes. The final framework will be informed by HEP practitioners, researchers and advocates committed to developing a common set of indicators that detail the impact of postsecondary education on re-entry outcomes.

This investment builds on IHEP’s 2016 National Postsecondary Metrics Framework, which prompted the strategic use of data among the broader postsecondary field to improve student success, especially among underserved students. The framework has informed how leading postsecondary institutions use high-quality data to implement strategies that improve student learning and degree completion.

“We know that prison-based higher education programs can transform students’ lives, but they also hold the unique potential to close equity gaps and fundamentally transform our society,” said IHEP President Michelle Asha Cooper. “We are grateful to Great Lakes for supporting this new research, which builds on our longstanding commitment to expanding access to high-quality higher education for incarcerated students.”

IHEP’s research efforts on the impacts of access to higher education for incarcerated students date back almost 25 years. In 1994, IHEP released Pell Grants: Are Prisoners the Program’s Biggest Problem?, a seminal analysis which concluded that Pell Grants awarded to incarcerated students represented less than one percent of the total program budget. In 2005, IHEP released Learning to Reduce Recidivism, which examined postsecondary correctional education and policy, and argued that postsecondary correctional education programs offer the potential to provide incarcerated individuals with a second chance at productive citizenship. IHEP’S 2011 report Unlocking Potential: Results of a National Survey of Postsecondary Education in State Prisons, included a state-by-state analysis of correctional education policy, detailed the complexity of postsecondary correctional offerings, and sought to provide meaningful strategies to advance policy innovations. Most recently, IHEP’s 2017 #CollegeNotPrison social media awareness campaign sought to educate policymakers, campus leaders, and the public about the financial aid barriers justice-involved students face when pursuing higher education.