Prison Education Programs (PEP)

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) supports the established and continued efforts of our institutional membership in delivering quality education to incarcerated students and is sharing these important updates regarding Federal Pell Grants for Prison Education Programs (PEP).

A prison education program (PEP) is defined as an eligible educational program offered by an institution at a correctional facility (Federal, State, or local penitentiary, prison, jail, reformatory, work farm, juvenile justice facility, or other similar correctional institution) to students who are confined or incarcerated. In order for any student who is confined or incarcerated to receive federal Pell Grant funds, the student must be enrolled in an eligible Prison Education Program (PEP). To access federal Pell grant funds, institutions must obtain accreditor approval through the substantive change process as well as state corrections departments or the Federal Bureau of Prisons (oversight bodies), and finally, the United States Department of Education (USDE).

The broad requirements and action steps for institutions have been outlined in the MSCHE Prison Education Programs (PEP) Guidance.

Under the Commission’s Substantive Change Policy and Procedures, an interested institution must submit a substantive change request, prior to implementation, for each PEP additional location and the first PEP eligible educational program offered at that location. A substantive change site visit is required for each PEP additional location that is established.

Some institutions have existing additional locations or other instructional sites at a correctional facility or prison site. These institutions received an email instructing them to submit a pilot PEP substantive change request form as early as May 15, 2023. Any institution with an existing additional location or other instructional site is invited to submit the Pilot PEP form prior to September 1, 2023. Please contact for instructions and the appropriate form.

Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative (SCP ESI)

The Second Chance Pell experiment began in 2015 and provides need-based Pell Grants to incarcerated individuals to allow them to participate in eligible postsecondary programs. With the passage of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Simplification Act in 2020, Congress expanded the ability to serve confined or incarcerated individuals by reinstating Pell Grant eligibility for otherwise-eligible confined or incarcerated individuals enrolled in eligible PEPs beginning July 1, 2023. As a result, the current Second Chance Pell experiment will end on June 30, 2023. The Department announced in a Federal Register notice published on April 18, 2023, that institutions participating in the Second Chance Pell experiment can apply to participate in a new revised experiment under the Experimental Sites Initiative (ESI). More information about the revised experiment can be found in the Electronic Announcement GENERAL 23-25. Additional information is available on the Second Chance Pell Experiment website.

A number of MSCHE institutions were approved participants under the SCP ESI. These institutions have the option to reapply under a revised experiment but must meet the requirements of USDE. If an institution did not begin operating under the SCP ESI program prior to July 1, 2023, it should submit a substantive change for the PEP Additional Location after July 1, 2023.

Institutions should contact their Vice President Liaisons with questions regarding future PEP additional locations.

Other Resources

MSCHE PEP Guidance

MSCHE PEP Substantive Change Forms

MSCHE Pell Reinstatement: What Colleges Need to Know Video

USDE Federal Student Aid (FSA) Knowledge Center | Prison Education Programs

USDE PEP Questions and Answers


Vera Institute for Justice

Vera Institute for Justice Postsecondary Education in Prison Programs and Accreditation—General Considerations for Peer Reviewers and Accreditors