top of page

SUNY Higher Education in Prison Receives $3 Million Expansion Grant

By Vince Gasparini | April 1, 2024

The State University of New York (SUNY) Office of Higher Education in Prison (OHEP) received a $3 million grant towards expanding higher education in prison programs, SUNY announced in a press release in late January. The grant was given to OHEP by Ascendium, a non-profit that seeks to fund and expand opportunities for education specifically for people from low-income backgrounds.

The University at Albany’s Academic Podium.

Photo Credit: Mattie Fitzpatrick / The ASP

OHEP Executive Director Rachel Sander outlines three different areas that the funds will be put towards, beginning at the “local level,” where Sander says there will be an equity fund with which campuses can communicate how they would use the funding to close equity gaps.

“We need to give campuses the money they need to do this work,” Sander said. “When we talk about equity gaps in the prisons, we’re talking about ways that being a student in the prison is not equal to being a student in the community.” OHEP supports 14 campuses that deliver degrees to students in 23 different correctional facilities, serving over 1,000 students every year.

Most of the degrees that are distributed are associate degrees, which are focused in either the liberal arts, business, or psychology. However, Sander says that new programs will be available for students in prisons soon, due to Pell Grants for incarcerated individuals being restored, along with the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).

Another portion of the funding will go directly towards OHEP’s state-level office, which Sander says will help to strengthen personnel. “It’s going to allow me to expand our staff and bring on more people who can work with our campuses to create, strengthen, and expand programming,” Sander said.

The third level of funding will go towards collaborative research between OHEP and the National Association of Higher Education Systems (NASH), which seeks to improve public higher education systems nationally. “We’re looking to basically be in conversation with other State University Systems that are thinking about higher education in prison,” Sander said.

“We’re hoping to really capture nationally how other higher education systems are thinking about this change, or preparing for this change,” says Sander, who believes that now that Pell is once again available for incarcerated individuals, higher education systems will now have a different role to play in their relationship with students in prison.

“I feel so passionate in making sure that everyone has access to higher education,” said Sander, who feels that higher education transformed her life. “Extending educational opportunity to those who have been traditionally overlooked, underserved, denied the opportunity; it feels very meaningful, it feels very important, it feels very exciting.”


bottom of page