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1.6.5 Incarcerated Students

Incarcerated students are not eligible for federal student loans, but they are eligible for certain grants.235 A student is considered to be incarcerated if the student is serving a criminal sentence in a federal, state, or local penitentiary, prison, jail, reformatory, work farm, or similar correctional institution.236 However, a student who is in a halfway house or home detention or is sentenced to serve only weekends is not considered incarcerated.237

The Department of Education launched the Second Chance Pell pilot program in 2015.238 This pilot program is testing new models to allow incarcerated students to receive Pell Grants and pursue postsecondary education. Through the pilot program, incarcerated individuals who otherwise meet Title IV eligibility requirements—and are eligible for release, particularly within the next five years—can access Pell Grants to pursue postsecondary education and training while incarcerated. The pilot program began its third school year in July 2018. As of March 2019, the program provides Pell Grants to people in state and federal prisons through partnerships with sixty-four colleges in twenty-six states.239 The program is expected to reach about 10,000 students in its third year. Approval has been granted for the Second Chance Pell program to continue for the 2019–2020 year, and the Secretary of Education has called for the program to become permanent.240 Incarcerated individuals are not eligible to receive other types of federal student aid under this pilot program.

There are also limits on institutional eligibility to participate in the federal student aid program related to incarceration; an otherwise eligible institution may become ineligible if, in its latest complete award year, more than 25% of its regular students are incarcerated.241


  • 235 {231} 20 U.S.C. § 1091(b)(5).

  • 236 {232} 34 C.F.R. § 600.2. See, e.g., Ashton v. Knepp, 2014 WL 3845117 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 5, 2014) (prisoner’s claim that prison officials violated HEA in seizing funds traceable to federal student grant for inmate account survived motion to dismiss).

  • 237 {233} 34 C.F.R. § 600.2.

  • 238 {234} Press Release, U.S. Dep’t of Educ., U.S. Department of Education Launches Second Chance Pell Pilot Program for Incarcerated Individuals (July 31, 2015).

  • 239 {235} See U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, GAO-19-130, Federal Student Aid: Actions Needed to Evaluate Pell Grant Pilot for Incarcerated Students (Mar. 2019), available at

  • 240 See Andrew Kreighbaum, DeVos Calls for Making ‘Second Chance Pell’ Permanent, Inside Higher Ed (June 26, 2019), available at

  • 241 {236} 20 U.S.C. § 1002(a)(3)(C).