Joe Wyatt
Published February 22, 2022

A recently announced grant will help Amarillo College ramp up educational opportunities and be optimally positioned when Pell Grant eligibility is restored nationally for people who are incarcerated.

AC is the recipient of a $100,000 grant courtesy of Ascendium Education Group’s Ready for Pell initiative. Ready for Pell is designed to assist institutions such as AC – which provide postsecondary education in prisons – as they navigate upcoming changes to the Pell Grant program.

Since 1994, people who are incarcerated have been prohibited from receiving Pell Grants, but that will change nationally no later than July of 2023.

Jobs for the Future (JFF), a national nonprofit, announced that 22 colleges and agencies across 16 states will receive Ready for Pell funding, and AC is pleased to be among them.

“These are important funds because once Pell eligibility is restored, our enrollment among the incarcerated is certain to increase dramatically,” said David Hall, associate dean of technical education at AC. “This money will enable us to hire a coordinator and provide necessary services such as academic advising and financial aid.

“We’ve had an existing program in place for a while, but this seed money lets us bring it to scale, establish a framework, and expand our program offerings for when Pell Grants for prisoners are restored.”

Currently, AC offers its diesel technology curriculum to prisoners at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Clements Unit in Amarillo, where 9 students received diplomas in 2021 and 14 more are presently near the program’s midpoint. AC is planning to offer HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) classes at the Clements Unit next fall.

Hall says the relatively low enrollment among prisoners right now is because their tuition and fees are paid either out of pocket or through private loans. With the restoration of Pell Grant eligibility among prisoners, the College hopes to offer additional degree plans in construction technology and general studies.

“The addition of Pell should instantly change our numbers,” Hall said, “and that’s good because it will allow us to offer educational pathways in high-demand occupations – here and across the state.

“Data shows that completing degrees and certificates during incarceration not only decreases recidivism, but it equips released prisoners with the means of making a family sustaining wage. That’s good for the local economy, the community, our local employers, and for the students themselves.”