EAST MOLINE – Earlier this month was the first week of fall semester classes for college students across the state – including 30 students enrolled in the Augustana Prison Education Program inside East Moline Correctional Center. The program is the first Second Chance Pell Experimental Site in the state to draw upon Second Chance Pell awards from the US Department of Education. In 2021, Augustana College applied and was selected to participate in the Second Chance Pell Initiative to provide the prison education program. The Second Chance Pell Initiative enables individuals in custody to participate in post-secondary education programs with Pell grant funding. This is the first program of its type in Illinois since incarcerated persons were banned access to Pell grants in 1994. This collaboration between Augustana College and the Illinois Department of Corrections aims to identify best practices to share with the broader higher education community in Illinois and comes in advance of full Pell grant restoration for individuals in custody in summer 2023. Launched in 2021, APEP is a full-time liberal arts Augustana College Bachelor of Arts degree program offered to individuals in custody at the East Moline Correctional Center.
Students take Augustana coursework from the same Augustana faculty who teach on the college’s main campus in Rock Island, Illinois. APEP was started with funds from the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation and sustained with donations from community organizations and private donors. Now, as a Second Chance Pell Experimental Site, Augustana can utilize need-based Pell grants to pay for the costs of college for individuals in custody.
“The APEP students are driven to succeed. They express their thanks every day, sometimes literally and often in the effort they take to be prepared for every class every time. They make their professors proud. APEP is a joy,” said Dr. Sharon Varallo, Executive Director of APEP.
A variety of studies have demonstrated that postsecondary education programs in prisons are effective investments that reduce prison costs. Those with the opportunity to enroll and complete college courses are considerably less likely to recidivate and pose fewer disciplinary challenges while incarcerated. Individuals who participate in prison education programs are also more likely to have gainful employment with life-sustaining wages upon release. IDOC is actively working with Illinois stakeholders and national experts to further prepare for full Pell restoration in 2023 and anticipates the launch of another Second Chance Experimental Site in partnership with Lewis University in January 2023.