IHEP report looks at impact of higher education on U.S. prison population

college degree

by Jeff Goldman | May 18, 2011

On May 4, the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) released a report that recommends postsecondary correctional education (PSCE) as a way to reduce recidivism for the approximately 2.3 million people imprisoned in the U.S. every year. According to the report, 70 percent of formerly incarcerated people, left without access to education past the secondary level, are more than likely to return to prison within three years.

The IHEP report, "Unlocking Potential: Results of a National Survey of Postsecondary Education in State Prisons," [PDF file] examines data from 43 states on postsecondary education programs in their prison systems, regarding student enrollments and completions, instructional methods, eligibility requirements, and funding sources.

"Limited postsecondary educational opportunity in prison may reduce an incarcerated person's likelihood of returning to prison after being released, which should be a concern to all as social conditions are exacerbated by high incarceration levels," IHEP President Michelle Asha Cooper, PhD, said in a statement.

Key findings include the following:

  • Approximately 71,000 people (about 6 percent of the prison population) were enrolled in vocational or academic postsecondary education programs for the 2009-10 academic year.
  • 13 "high-enrollment" states (with more than 1,000 incarcerated students enrolled) accounted for 86 percent of all incarcerated postsecondary students in state prison systems included in the study.
  • During the 2009-10 academic year, approximately 9,900 incarcerated people earned a certificate, 2,200 associate's degrees were awarded, and almost 400 students earned bachelor's degrees.
  • Due to the fact that incarcerated students don't have access to federal- and state-based financial aid, about 95 percent of responding states are relying on federal grant programs (most commonly the Workforce and Community Transitions Training for Incarcerated Individuals program).

The report also makes the following three policy recommendations:

  • To address capacity challenges that limit access to postsecondary education in prisons, federal and state statutes and regulations should be revised to support the development and expansion of Internet-based delivery of such education.
  • To increase educational attainment, support economic development, and make efficient use of limited public funding, postsecondary correctional education programs should be closely aligned with state postsecondary education systems and local workforce needs.
  • To support increased access to postsecondary education in prisons, federal and state statutes should be amended to make specific categories of incarcerated persons eligible for need-based financial aid.

The IHEP report is based on results from a national survey sent to state correctional education administrators. Only 43 states responded--states that did not respond included Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

For related news and other coverage from Schools.com, see:


Read More [+]

Searching Searching ...

Prefer exploring school options talking to our staff? Call toll free now: 1.855.816.4004
Call toll free now
Matching School Ads
  • All
  • Art & Design
  • Business
  • Education
  • Engineering & Construction
  • Health
  • Hospitality & Culinary
  • Law & Criminal Justice
  • Liberal Arts & Humanities
  • Science
  • Social Science
  • Technology & IT
  • Vocational
Degree/Diploma Offered
  • All
  • Associate Degree
  • Bachelor Degree
  • Certificate Program
  • Coursework Program
  • Diploma Program
  • Doctoral Program
  • Master Degree
Location Type


  • Both
  • Online
  • Campus
Zip/Postal Code
  • Alumni have appeared in reality competition shows such as Top Chef, Project Runway.
  • A team of about 4,000 faculty members are focused on helping students tap opportunities in a marketplace driven by ideas.
  • Academic programs available in design, media arts, fashion, and culinary
  • Program Coordinators work with students to ensure they have the learning materials, assignments, facilities, and faculty to get the most out of the program.
  • Over 50 campus locations nationwide.
Get your career started with Intercoast Colleges. We offer a number of certificate programs in a variety of fields, including medical, allied health, massage therapy, nursing, and electrical training.

Try your first two online courses for only $200 each with our Start Smart offer.

  • Founded in Southern California in 1998 by dog training expert Steven Appelbaum, it is the largest independent dog training company in the United States.
  • As of May 2013, the total student body was 24,485
  • Provides dog obedience training classes in all Petco stores in the U.S. and Petcetera Warehouse stores in Canada. 
  • Is part of the MyCAA Financial Assistance program, which offers eligible military spouses up to $4,000 of tuition assistance that can be used towards any course offered by Animal Behavior College.

Give your career a boost with University of Saint Mary. We offer online degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels to help make your educational and professional goals a reality.


Explore a new career with Concorde Career College. We offer short-term programs in the fields of allied health, massage therapy, and nursing, including medical assisting, medical office administration, respiratory therapy, surgical technology, pharmacy technician, physical therapy assisting, occupational therapy assisting, practical nursing, vocational nursing, nursing bridge, dental assisting, and dental hygiene. Our focus is on hands-on skill-building, so you get real-life training and experience. We have 16 campuses located in and around major metro areas throughout California, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas.

  • Phoenix Career Services™ help students find careers that match their interests & map out a personalized career plan.
  • Average class size is 14 students.
  • Faculty members average 16 years of experience in their field.
  • Mentorships & networking opportunities available through Alumni Association of 800,000+ graduates. 
  • Students & alumni can access job posts from top corporations, including AT&T, Hitachi & MGM Resorts.
  • Flexible start date and class schedules.
  • 100+ locations and online options.
Matching School Ads

About the Author

Jeff Goldman is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles.