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More Minnesota inmates to be eligible for federal aid for college classes

There now are 148 inmates taking in-person classes and working toward a degree. An additional 107 are taking other in-person classes through St. Cloud State or Pine Tech, North Hennepin, Lake Superior or South Central colleges.

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Minnesota first lady Gwen Walz, center, greets an inmate during a high school and college graduation ceremony at the Minnesota Correctional Facility–Stillwater in March 2019.
St. Paul Pioneer Press file photo
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ST. PAUL -- More Minnesota inmates taking college courses from prison will be eligible for federal grants this fall, one year before Pell Grants become available to all U.S. inmates.

The U.S. Department of Education this week approved five more Minnesota State colleges and universities to participate in the final round of the Second Chance Pell Experiment, which lets inmates apply for income-based federal grants available to all college students.

That expansion will make all of Minnesota incarcerated students potentially eligible for tuition-free courses a full year before a new federal law takes effect.

Congress in 1994 barred inmates from receiving Pell Grants. But in 2015, when the Obama administration initiated the Pell experiment, three Minnesota prisons began to offer certificate programs in career and technical education fields.

The Department of Corrections later added two- and four-year online degree programs through Second Chance.

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And, last fall, select prisons began offering in-person courses with local college faculty who come into the prisons to teach. The Lino Lakes prison works with Minneapolis College, Stillwater with Metropolitan State University, and Shakopee and Faribault with Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Single courses from the University of Minnesota and St. Cloud State University also are offered on-site.

For now, the state government and private donors are covering costs for the newest on-site programs. But in the fall, the federal government will start chipping in through Pell Grants.

Then, in July 2023, a new federal law signed by former President Donald Trump takes effect that will restore Pell eligibility to all inmates.

The U.S. Education Department says classes for inmates have been proven to result in higher employment rates upon release and reduce the likelihood of returning to prison.

There now are 148 inmates taking in-person classes and working toward a degree, said Janet Morales, director of higher education partnerships for the Department of Corrections.

An additional 107 are taking other in-person classes through St. Cloud State or Pine Tech, North Hennepin, Lake Superior or South Central colleges.

And 75 students are enrolled in online courses through Ohio-based Ashland University.

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Morales said the local college faculty who come into the prisons to teach routinely say the inmates are among their most engaged students.

“For our incarcerated population,” she said, “this represents the first time that many of them have a really rigorous, exciting and quality education.”

Related Topics: EDUCATIONCRIME AND COURTS
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