(The Center Square) – Classes began on college campuses across the state, but also at a prison in Illinois.
There are approximately 30 students enrolled in the Augustana Correctional Education Program (APEP) inside East Moline Correctional Center, a minimum-security facility. The program is the first experimental Second Chance Pell site in the state to leverage the United States Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell awards to pay for tuition.
It’s the first such program in Illinois since incarcerated people were barred from Pell Grants in 1994, but that has changed and now regular college classes are held behind bars.
“The Pell Restoration is a tremendous opportunity to expand partnerships between colleges and correctional agencies to provide high-quality education to those in custody,” said Rob Jeffries, director of the Illinois Department of Corrections.
APEP was launched in 2021 with funds from the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation and supported by donations from community organizations and private donors. Now, as a second-chance Pell experimental site, Augustana can use need-based Pell grants to pay tuition for those in detention.
“We’ve seen how access to a great education allows individuals to succeed as they re-enter society,” said Amber Allen, assistant director of programs at East Moline Correctional Center.
Next summer, full Pell Grant funding will be restored for prisoners. As a result, Allen is considering expanding the program elsewhere.
“By having these opportunities and seeing their success, we hope they blossom into different opportunities throughout the state of Illinois and also in the United States,” Allen said.