Cellblock certified: Prisoners could receive Pell Grants, but at what cost?

By Jessica Babb, Broadcast News Producer

Mugs_RH August 20, 2015-11Life after prison can be a tough transition for many, as they have to assimilate back into society after being locked away for years. Commonly, many prisoners lack education and vocational skills to help them find success outside the chain-linked fence.

As a solution to this issue, the U.S. Department of Education has created a new experiment called the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program, which will allow many federal and state prisoners to receive Pell Grants and work toward a college degree beginning fall 2016.

Currently, prisoners do not qualify to receive financial aid, but through this experimental program, some colleges will have exemptions from current federal financial aid policies.

In the modern workforce, a college education is no longer a privilege for those who can afford it; it is a necessity to survive. With the increasing price of higher education, the idea of college is simply out of reach for many students, both convicts and law-abiding citizens.

Even for law-abiding students who are eligible for federal financial aid through various government funds and subsidies, many still struggle to make college a reality.

According to College Board, the average estimated undergraduate tuition for a public four-year, in-state campus was more than $9,000 and the average tuition for private four-year schools was upwards of $30,000. Based on an independent study done by the Institute for College Access and Success, 69 percent of students who graduated from public and non-profit colleges in 2013 paid an average of $28,400 per student.

Student debt and the cost of receiving a higher education hurt students who are struggling to pay the cost of tuition in order to simply create successful lives for themselves. As it is right now, government aid is simply not enough.

While leveling the playing field and giving every individual a chance to be successful in the modern workforce in necessary, the government ought to do more to help students who have helped themselves first by staying out of prison before expanding government resources beyond that.

Prisoners receive housing, food, clothing and medical care free of charge thanks to taxpayers during their time in jail, and now they may be able to receive Pell Grants, which are not required to be paid back. Law abiding students, on the other hand, don’t have the luxury of living off taxpayer money and have to figure out how to make ends meet to attend college by being responsible for normal living expenses and the cost of tuition. In 2013, only 36 percent of students received Pell Grants according to College Board.

Before expanding the Pell Grant program to prisoners, it should first be expanded to reach more law-abiding students to make college more attainable for them.

Even though there is a place for second-chances, students who work hard to follow the rules and do what they are supposed to do the first time should not have to struggle to make college and a successful life a reality, when those in prison can receive all the same benefits.

Jessica Babb is a sophomore from Harker Heights. She is the Broadcast News Producer for the Lariat.