When Congress decided to stop extending Pell grant eligibility to prisoners, despite the fact that a Government Accountability Office report at the time showed there was no impact on other needy students’ ability to receive aid by maintaining prison Pell, several institutions in many states worked privately to continue to extend these opportunities to students in their states.
Rutgers University, New Jersey’s public system that includes 30 campuses, and Raritan Valley Community College, in Branchburg Township, were among them, and are the only two institutions in the state approved.
Even before President Obama announced a pilot program to bring back prison Pell beginning in the 2016-17 school year — with Rutgers and Raritan Valley co-authorized as a pilot site serving seven correctional facilities across the state — the institutions had been working to provide educational associations to incarcerated individuals, with particular efforts toward reintegrating them back onto the campuses upon their release.
Obama’s Second Chance Pell program was enacted as an executive action under the experimental sites provision of the Higher Education Act in 2015, targeting approximately 12,000 inmates at over 100 federal and state penal institutions across the country who are within three and five years of release. The partnering institutions offer classroom-based instruction at the prisons — in the case of Rutgers and Raritan Valley, New Jersey inmates can earn either an associate of arts degree for transfer, or a bachelor of arts in criminal justice. Raritan Valley offers the associate degree, Rutgers the bachelors, and the entire program is administered under the umbrella of the NJ-Step program, which is the latest iteration of a consortium agreement around prison education in New Jersey. NJ-Step is housed at Rutgers and serves as a liaison organization between the community college, university system and the prison system.