WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is taking steps to expand the Pell grant program to prisoners.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch have scheduled a visit to the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup, Maryland, on Friday to announce the plans.
Duncan previewed the plans in a speech Monday on higher education. He says the administration wants to develop “experimental sites that will make Pell grants available” to inmates to help them get job training and secure a productive life after they get out of jail.
Asked for more details, Duncan told reporters in a call after the speech, “Stay tuned.”
Congress passed legislation in 1994 banning government student aid to prisoners in federal or state institutions. By setting up the proposed “experimental sites,” the administration would be seeking to get around the ban with a pilot program.
The experimental sites initiative section of the Higher Education Act of 1965 allows federal officials to set up temporary programs to test the effectiveness of statutory and regulatory flexibility for disbursing Title IV student aid. The tests could give the Education Department data to support possible changes to current regulations and statute.
Education Department Undersecretary Ted Mitchell called Pell grants “one of the key levers that we have” to increase the college completion rate.
More than 2 million students now receive Pell grants, according to Duncan. They do not have to be repaid. The maximum award for the 2015-2016 school year is $5,775.
The administration’s plans were first reported by Politico and The Wall Street Journal.