NPU Chosen for Pell Grants to Educate Prisoners

CHICAGO, IL (July 5, 2016) — North Park University is one of 67 colleges and universities selected to participate in the U.S. Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell program, the department has announced.

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Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom

The pilot program will allow eligible incarcerated students to receive Pell Grants and pursue postsecondary education, enrolling 12,000 prisoners at more than 100 correctional institutions around the country. Qualifying students are likely to be released within five years of enrolling in coursework.

First announced in July 2015, the program had received interest from more than 200 colleges and universities by last October. North Park is one of two institutions in the state of Illinois to be selected as a participating institution.

“The evidence is clear,” said U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. in a statement. “Promoting the education and job training for incarcerated individuals makes communities safer by reducing recidivism and saves taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration.”

“One of the things I tell our partners is that we’re not just about education; we’re about just education. Offering accessibility to groups who traditionally don’t have access to higher education is something North Park is well positioned to do.” – Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom

A RAND Corporation study found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who did not participate in any correctional education programs. RAND also estimated that for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, four to five dollars are saved on three-year reincarceration costs.

The selected institutions “demonstrate strong partnerships between the postsecondary institution and correctional institutions,” the White House Press Office said in a statement. “These partnerships will help to facilitate high-quality educational programs, strong academic and career support services, and re-entry support.”

The announcement comes after North Park became a founding partner of the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge earlier in June. On June 10, Secretary King hosted representatives of 15 institutions, including North Park University president David Parkyn, at the White House to announce the pledge, which seeks to expand college opportunity and eliminate barriers for those with a criminal record.

“The Second Chance Pell program is an excellent mission fit with who we are at North Park,” said Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom, professor of theology and ethics. She spearheaded the university’s application to the program and co-teaches current North Park courses offered in correctional centers.

“One of the things I tell our partners is that we’re not just about education; we’re about just education,” Clifton-Soderstrom said. “Offering accessibility to groups who traditionally don’t have access to higher education is something North Park is well positioned to do.”

“The population in prison is probably one of the least accessible populations in the country,” Clifton-Soderstrom said. “North Park is Christian, urban, and intercultural. And to be truly intercultural, we need to address some of the barriers to participation in education from all people.”

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