[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 148 (Monday, August 3, 2015)]
[Notices]
[Pages 45964-45966]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-18994]


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DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION


Notice Inviting Postsecondary Educational Institutions To 
Participate in Experiments Under the Experimental Sites Initiative; 
Federal Student Financial Assistance Programs Under Title IV of the 
Higher Education Act of 1965, as Amended

AGENCY: Office of Postsecondary Education, Department of Education.

ACTION: Notice.

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SUMMARY: The Secretary invites postsecondary educational institutions 
(institutions) that participate in the student financial assistance 
programs authorized under title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, 
as amended (the HEA), to apply to participate in a new institution-
based experiment under the Experimental Sites Initiative (ESI). Under 
the ESI, the Secretary has authority to grant waivers from certain 
title IV HEA statutory or regulatory requirements to allow a limited 
number of institutions to participate in experiments to test 
alternative methods for administering the title IV HEA programs. The 
alternative methods of title IV HEA administration that the Secretary 
is permitting under the ESI are designed to facilitate efforts by 
institutions to test certain innovative practices aimed at improving 
student outcomes and the delivery of services.
    Under this experiment, participating institutions will provide 
Federal Pell Grant funding to otherwise eligible students who are 
incarcerated in Federal or State penal institutions. Details of the 
experiment are provided below in the ``The Experiment'' section of this 
notice.

DATES: Letters of application to participate in the proposed experiment 
described in this notice must be received by the Department of 
Education (the Department) no later than October 2, 2015 in order for 
an institution to receive priority to be considered for participation 
in the experiment. Institutions submitting letters that are received 
after October 2, 2015 may still, at the discretion of the Secretary, be 
considered for participation.

ADDRESSES: Letters of application must be submitted by electronic mail 
to the following email address: experimentalsites@ed.gov. For formats 
and other required information, see ``Instructions for Submitting 
Letters of Application'' under SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Warren Farr, U.S. Department of 
Education, Federal Student Aid, 830 First Street NE., Washington, DC 
20002. Telephone: (202) 377-4380 or by email at: Warren.Farr@ed.gov.
    If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) or a text 
telephone (TTY), call the Federal Relay Service (FRS), toll free, at 1-
800-877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Instructions for Submitting Letters of Application

    Letters of application should take the form of an Adobe Portable 
Document Format (PDF) attachment to an email message sent to the email 
address provided in the ADDRESSES section of this notice. The subject 
line of the email should read ``ESI 2015--Pell for Students who are 
Incarcerated.'' The text of the email should include the name and 
address of the institution. The letter of application should be on 
institutional letterhead and be signed by the institution's financial 
aid administrator. The letter of application must include the 
institution's official name and the Department's Office of 
Postsecondary Education Identification (OPEID), as well as the name of 
a contact person at the institution, a mailing address, email address, 
FAX number, and telephone number. Please include in the letter a 
listing of the academic programs that the institution is considering 
for inclusion in this experiment and, for each of those programs, an 
estimate of the number of participating students. We understand that 
institutions' academic program listings and the actual number of 
students who participate may vary from the information submitted in the 
letter.

Background

    Section 401(b)(6) of the HEA provides that students who are 
incarcerated in a Federal or State penal institution are not eligible 
to receive Federal Pell Grant funds. This prohibition is included in 
the Department's regulations at 34 CFR 668.32(c)(2)(ii).
    The experiment outlined below will allow participating institutions 
to provide Federal Pell Grant funding to otherwise eligible students 
who are incarcerated in Federal or State penal institutions and who are 
eligible for release into the community, particularly those who are 
likely to be released within five years of enrollment in the program.
    The prison population is significantly less educated than the 
general population. For nearly half of all incarcerated individuals in 
Federal or State facilities, a high school diploma or General 
Educational Development (GED) certificate is their highest level of 
education. Only 11 percent of incarcerated individuals in State 
correctional facilities and 24 percent of individuals incarcerated in 
Federal prisons have completed at least some postsecondary 
education.\1\ In addition, educational offerings at Federal and State 
penal institutions are limited in that they generally focus on adult 
basic education and secondary education that

[[Page 45965]]

aim to improve foundational reading, writing, numeracy, and English 
language skills. Surveys of Federal and State prisons have found that 
only about 40 percent offer postsecondary education programs.\2\ Given 
the statutory prohibition on incarcerated students accessing Federal 
student aid, roughly 1,574,700 persons in Federal or State penal 
institutions in 2013 were unable to be considered for higher education 
courses financed through the Pell Grant Program.\3\
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    \1\ Caroline Wolf Harlow. ``Education and Correctional 
Populations.'' U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice 
Programs. January 2003. Accessed on June 12, 2015 at: www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ecp.pdf.
    \2\ Wendy Erisman and Jeanne Bayer Contardo. ``Learning to 
Reduce Recidivism: A 50-state Analysis of Postsecondary Correctional 
Education Policy.'' Institute for Higher Education Policy. November 
2005. Accessed on June 12, 2015 at: www.ihep.org/sites/default/files/uploads/docs/pubs/learningreducerecidivism.pdf.
    \3\ Lauren E. Glaze and Danielle Kaeble. ``Correctional 
Populations in the United States, 2013.'' U.S. Department of 
Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. December 2014. Accessed on 
May 1, 2015 at: www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cpus13.pdf.
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    While fewer than half of all prisons offer postsecondary education, 
research suggests that postsecondary education and training for 
incarcerated individuals is correlated with several positive post-
release outcomes, including increased educational attainment levels, 
reduced recidivism rates, and improved post-release employment 
opportunities and earnings.\4\ According to the Department of Justice, 
postsecondary correctional education is a promising and cost-effective 
practice that supports the successful reentry of justice-involved 
individuals.\5\ Providing greater postsecondary education and training 
opportunities to incarcerated individuals, particularly the 
approximately 630,000 individuals expected to be released from Federal 
and State prisons each year,\6\ some of whom will be eligible to 
receive Pell grants, may help to facilitate their successful transition 
back into society. Consistent with the President's ``My Brother's 
Keeper Task Force'' recommendations to enforce the rights of 
incarcerated youth to a quality education and eliminate unnecessary 
barriers to reentry, on December, 8, 2014, the Department of Education 
and the Department of Justice jointly released a Correctional Education 
Guidance Package.\7\ The guidance package included a Dear Colleague 
Letter on Access to Pell Grants for Students in Juvenile Justice 
Facilities (DCL GEN-14-21) from the Department of Education clarifying 
that students who are confined or incarcerated in locations that are 
not penal institutions, such as juvenile justice facilities and local 
or county jails, and who otherwise meet applicable eligibility 
criteria, are eligible for Federal Pell Grants.\8\ The experiment, 
which is described in more detail in the ``The Experiment'' section of 
this notice, is intended to test whether participation in high-quality 
educational opportunities increases after access to financial aid for 
incarcerated adults is expanded.
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    \4\ Lois M. David, Robert Bozick, Jennifer L. Steele, Jessica 
Saunders and Jeremy N. V. Miles. ``Evaluating the Effectiveness of 
Correctional Education: A Meta-Analysis of Programs That Provide 
Education to Incarcerated Adults.'' RAND Corporation. 2013. Accessed 
on June 12, 2015 at: www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR266.
    \5\ ``Practice Profile: Postsecondary Correctional Education.'' 
National Institute of Justice. Accessed on May 1, 2015 at: 
www.crimesolutions.gov/PracticeDetails.aspx?ID=23.
    \6\ ``Prisoners in 2013.'' U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of 
Justice Statistics. September 2014. Accessed on June 12, 2015 at: 
www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p13.pdf.
    \7\ Department of Education. Correctional Education in Juvenile 
Justice Facilities. Available at: www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/correctional-education/index.html.
    \8\ Department of Education. Federal Pell Grant Eligibility for 
Students Confined or Incarcerated in Locations That Are Not Federal 
or State Penal Institutions. Dear Colleague Letter GEN-14-21. 
Available at: http://ifap.ed.gov/dpcletters/GEN1421.html.
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    This notice is in response to a notice that was published in the 
Federal Register on December 6, 2013 (78 FR 73518), through which the 
Secretary solicited suggestions from postsecondary institutions for new 
experiments under the ESI. In response, the Department received 
submissions from a diverse range of institutions and other interested 
parties. The experiment included in this notice was informed by 
suggestions submitted that were related to the title IV HEA eligibility 
of incarcerated students.

Reporting and Evaluation

    The Department is interested in obtaining information that will 
allow for an evaluation of the experiment. Institutions that are 
selected for participation in the experiment will be required to 
provide the Department information about the participating students, 
which may include identifying information for students who submit a 
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for enrollment in one 
of the programs included in the experiment offered by the participating 
postsecondary educational institution.
    In addition, participating institutions will be required to submit 
an annual report about the experiment, its implementation, and its 
results. Through this survey, institutions will provide the Department 
information on (1) courses and programs offered, (2) numbers and types 
of degrees and certificates awarded, (3) partnerships with the 
correctional facilities, (4) challenges in providing programs and 
courses in the prison settings, (5) how these challenges were 
addressed, and (6) other relevant data.
    In addition to complying with these reporting and evaluation 
requirements, participating institutions will be required to 
participate, if requested, in an outcome evaluation of the experiment.
    The specific evaluation and reporting requirements will be 
finalized prior to the start of each experiment.

Application and Selection

    From the institutions that submit letters of interest, the 
Secretary will select a limited number of institutions to participate 
in the experiment, carefully considering institutional diversity by, 
among other characteristics, institutional type and control, geographic 
location, enrollment size, and title IV HEA participation levels.
    When determining which institutions will be selected for 
participation in this experiment, the Secretary will consider evidence 
that demonstrates a strong record on student outcomes and in the 
administration of the title IV HEA programs, such as evidence of 
programmatic compliance, cohort default rates, financial responsibility 
ratios, completion rates, and, for for-profit institutions, ``90/10'' 
funding levels.
    Before institutions are selected for this experiment, the Secretary 
will consult with the institutions on the final experimental design 
through webinars or other outreach activities.
    Institutions selected for participation in the experiment will have 
their Program Participation Agreements (PPAs) with the Secretary 
amended to reflect the specific statutory or regulatory provisions that 
the Secretary waives or modifies for the experiment. The amended PPA 
will document the agreement between the Secretary and the institution 
for the administration of the experiment.

The Experiment

Background

    Section 401(b)(6) of the HEA provides that students who are 
incarcerated in a Federal or State penal institution are not eligible 
to receive Federal Pell Grant funds. This restriction prevents many 
otherwise eligible incarcerated individuals from accessing financial 
aid and benefiting from postsecondary education and training.
    In accordance with the waiver authority granted to the Secretary 
under section 487A(b) of the HEA, this experiment will examine how 
waiving

[[Page 45966]]

the restriction on providing Pell Grants to individuals incarcerated in 
Federal or State penal institutions influences participation in 
education opportunities as well as academic and life outcomes. The 
experiment will also examine whether the waiver creates any challenges 
or obstacles to an institution's administration of the title IV HEA 
programs.

Description

    This experiment will provide a waiver of the statutory provision 
that a student who is incarcerated in a Federal or State penal 
institution may not receive a Pell Grant. The experiment will allow 
some otherwise eligible students who are incarcerated in Federal or 
State penal institutions to receive a Pell Grant to help cover some of 
the costs of their participation in a postsecondary education and 
training program developed and offered by the participating 
postsecondary educational institution. This experiment only waives 
specific requirements of the title IV HEA programs. Additional 
restrictions or requirements associated with postsecondary study 
imposed by postsecondary institutions or correctional institutions may 
still apply. Students' eligibility to receive Federal Pell Grants aid 
under this experiment would remain subject to those requirements.
    The education and training programs offered by the postsecondary 
institution must meet all title IV HEA program eligibility 
requirements. While the program must be credit-bearing and result in a 
certificate or degree, up to one full year of remedial coursework is 
allowed for students in need of academic support.
    The experiment will require that participating institutions:
     Partner with one or more Federal or State correctional 
facilities to offer one or more title IV HEA eligible academic programs 
to incarcerated students;
     Work with the partnering correctional facilities to 
encourage interested students to submit a FAFSA;
     Only disburse Pell Grant funding to otherwise eligible 
students who will eventually be eligible for release from the 
correctional facility, while giving priority to those who are likely to 
be released within five years of enrollment in the educational program;
     Only enroll students in postsecondary education and 
training programs that prepare them for high-demand occupations from 
which they are not legally barred from entering due to restrictions on 
formerly incarcerated individuals obtaining any necessary licenses or 
certifications for those occupations;
     Disclose to interested students and to the Department 
information about any portions of a program of study that, by design, 
cannot be completed while students are incarcerated, as well as the 
options available for incarcerated students to complete any remaining 
program requirements post-release;
     As appropriate, offer students the opportunity to continue 
their enrollment in the academic program if the student is released 
from prison prior to program completion; and
     Inform students of the academic and financial options 
available if they are not able to complete the academic program while 
incarcerated. This includes whether the students can continue in the 
program after release, transfer credits earned in the program to 
another program offered by the institution, or transfer credits earned 
in the program to another postsecondary institution.
    Participating institutions, in partnership with Federal or State 
correctional facilities, will also submit their plans for providing 
academic and career guidance, as well as transition services to their 
incarcerated students to support successful reentry.
    The Pell Grant funds made available to eligible students through 
this experiment are intended to supplement, not supplant, existing 
investments in postsecondary prison-based education programs by either 
the postsecondary institution, the correctional facility, or outside 
sources.

Waivers

    Institutions selected for this experiment will be exempt from, or 
will be granted waivers from, section401(b)(6) of the HEA; and 34 CFR 
668.32(c)(2)(ii), which provides that students who are incarcerated in 
any Federal or State penal institution are not eligible to receive Pell 
Grant funding.
    The waiver described in this notice does not apply to individuals 
subject to an involuntary civil commitment upon completion of a period 
of incarceration for a forcible or nonforcible sexual offense.
    All other provisions and regulations of the title IV HEA student 
assistance programs will remain in effect.
    Accessible Format: Individuals with disabilities can obtain this 
document in an accessible format (e.g., braille, large print, 
audiotape, or compact disc) on request to the contact person listed 
under FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT.
    Electronic Access to This Document: The official version of this 
document is the document published in the Federal Register. Free 
Internet access to the official edition of the Federal Register and the 
Code of Federal Regulations is available via the Federal Digital System 
at: www.gpo.gov/fdsys. At this site you can view this document, as well 
as all other documents of this Department published in the Federal 
Register, in text or PDF. To use PDF, you must have Adobe Acrobat 
Reader, which is available free at the site.
    You may also access documents of the Department published in the 
Federal Register by using the article search feature at: 
www.federalregister.gov. Specifically, through the advanced search 
feature at this site, you can limit your search to documents published 
by the Department.
    Delegation of Authority: The Secretary of Education has delegated 
authority to Jamienne S. Studley, Deputy Under Secretary, to perform 
the functions and duties of the Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary 
Education.

    Program Authority: HEA, section 487A(b); 20 U.S.C. 1094a(b).

    Dated: July 29, 2015.
Jamienne S. Studley,
Deputy Under Secretary.
[FR Doc. 2015-18994 Filed 7-31-15; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4000-01-P