Georgia State University cancels prison education program

Georgia State University has attributed the suspension of its prison education program this summer to the revival of Pell Grants governed by federal regulations.

New admissions are not being accepted into the program, but the university has devised a plan to support current students enrolled in two state prisons toward program completion, which may span up to two years.

The decision to cease classes at three correctional facilities was informed by the administrative hurdles in obtaining federal financial aid and a $24 million budget deficit, according to a statement relayed to Open Campus. The program has been operational since 2016.

Pell Grants are crucial federal aid for economically disadvantaged students. With incarcerated students becoming notably eligible for these grants in July 2023 for the first time since the 1994 crime bill, over 750,000 students are now eligible. However, they must be part of an approved college program at a correctional facility recognized by the federal Education Department.

Georgia State’s choice implies that approximately 60 present students at two state prisons and one federal facility may need to defer their educational aspirations of attaining a degree while incarcerated. The challenging circumstances faced by incarcerated college students often hinder them from completing their degrees due to disruptions and external interruptions beyond their control.

“These students have experienced repeated disappointments in their lives,” remarked Katherine Perry, an English professor at Perimeter College under Georgia State. Perry was one of three faculty members involved in founding the prison education program in 2016.

In late November, faculty and staff were surprised by an email from Cynthia Lester, interim dean of Perimeter College, announcing the program’s discontinuation. The decision was linked to “financial constraints and the significant administrative demands” associated with securing Pell approval from the federal Education Department.

The program, despite previous financial challenges that were mitigated through fundraising, hit a roadblock this time when attempts to bridge the financial gap were denied. Funding from grants, totaling at least $700,000 since 2022, might aid in supporting continuing students. Additionally, a $669,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation in 2023 aimed to fund a literary journal through the prison education initiative.