Beginning this fall, Kent State University at Trumbull will
offer Trumbull Correctional Institution incarcerated individuals
a chance to complete a Bachelor of Technical and Applied Studies
(BTAS). With substantial funding support from local foundations,
Kent State Trumbull and LaunchNET
Kent State will join Sinclair Community College
(Dayton, Ohio) to complete this new 2+2 program partnership.
Sinclair has been offering an Associate in Business Management
there for two years, so its first graduates will be ready to
begin working on their bachelor's this fall. Along with the
degree, students can complete a certificate in entrepreneurship
through the program.
“We chose the BTAS with entrepreneurship training because it is
difficult for individuals with felonies to get hired by
employers,” said Kristenne Robison, Ph.D., assistant
professor of sociology, criminology and justice studies. “By
developing their entrepreneurial mindset and skills, as well as
putting credentials in their hands, graduates of the program can
start a business, pursue funding for their entrepreneurial
efforts or offer value to local employers.”
Many policymakers focus on the benefits of a college education
in reducing recidivism as it increases the chances for
successful reentry. A 2013 Rand study found that individuals
participating in a correctional education program while
incarcerated were 43% less likely to reoffend in comparison to
their peers who did not participate in correctional education.
There is also a high need and interest in pursuing postsecondary
education while incarcerated, particularly bachelor's degree
According to Daniel Palmer, Ph.D., interim dean and chief
administrative officer of Kent State Trumbull, the benefits of a
program like this are vast.
“As a public institution, a program like this helps Kent State
fulfill its mission of ‘transform[ing] lives and communities
through the power of discovery, learning and creative expression
in an inclusive environment,’” he said.
The Kent State prison education program, which does not have an
official name yet, has been in the works since January 2020.
Robison, along with Benjamin Tipton, Kent State’s
executive director of foundation relations, began the process of
seeking the financial support necessary to make the program a
reality. Trumbull Campus Director of Philanthropy Dave Smith
supported their efforts by introducing the concept to potential
funders from across the Mahoning Valley.
A 2016 study by the U.S. Department of Education revealed that
over the course of three decades — from 1979 to 2013 — state and
local spending on prisons and jails increased at three times the
rate of funding for pre-K-12.
“So this becomes a community effort to prevent recidivism and
reinvest in individuals who want to make a change,” Robison
said. “Many of our local foundations realized the potential
benefits for this program and made significant contributions to
help launch it.”
Here is a list of funders:
Burton D. Morgan Foundation
The Raymond John Wean Foundation
The Youngstown Foundation
Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley
The Thomases Family Endowment
Congress reinstated access to Pell Grants for incarcerated
students last December. The FAFSA Simplification Act is set to
take effect no later than July 1, 2023. According to Robison,
this should alleviate the need for additional funding and make
the program self-supporting.
In the 1990s, Pell Grants were eliminated for incarcerated
learners. The U.S. Department of Education, during the Obama
administration, created the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program.
Pell Grant access was made available to 10,000 incarcerated
learners across the country. In
December of 2020, with bipartisan support, Pell Grants were
reinstated for incarcerated learners (or will be by July of 2023
at the latest). The
reinstatement provides a significant funding stream for college
in prison programs.
Incarcerated people earn pennies per hour for the work they do
in prison. Pell Grants, the primary source of need-based
financial aid, has made it possible for students to access
higher education. The
1994 crime bill stripped incarcerated students of Pell Grant
eligibility, making a college education practically
“Our program begins near the 50th anniversary of the Attica
Prison riots, which occurred in September 1971,” Robison said.
“The first college degree program in prison emerged out of the
Attica Prison riots as it gave incarcerated individuals
something positive to do with their time while incarcerated.”