Prison Education Programs Questions and Answers

Other than statutory and regulatory requirements included in the document, the contents of this guidance do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public. This guidance is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies.

Questions on this topic are divided into the following categories:

In addition to the following Q&As, please visit https://fsapartners.ed.gov/knowledge-center/topics/prison-education-programs where you can find a central repository of all regulations, webinars, policies and guidance related to Prison Education Programs (PEPs). If you do not see the answer to your question here, you can email pep@ed.gov.

The Department will provide student-focused information at: https://studentaid.gov/.

PEP General Questions (PEP)

PEP-Q1: When will confined or incarcerated individuals qualify for Pell Grants?

PEP-A1: Confined or incarcerated individuals are eligible for Pell Grants if they are enrolled in eligible PEPs for payment periods that begin on or after July 1, 2023, under the provisions of the Free Application For Federal Student Aid Simplification Act (Title VII, Division FF of P.L. 116-260) (FAFSA Simplification Act). [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

PEP-Q2: Will schools be required to report correctional facilities (additional locations) where they offer PEPs under Clery Reporting as a part of its Clery geography?

PEP-A2: Classrooms in correctional facilities that are not owned or controlled by a school are not considered part of the school’s Clery geography. In the rare circumstance that a school did own or control a correctional facility and it also offers an eligible PEP at that correctional facility, then that correctional facility must be included in the school’s Clery geography for reporting purposes. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

PEP-Q3: What can the cost of attendance for a confined or incarcerated individual include?

PEP-A3: The FAFSA Simplification Act made changes to allowable costs that may be considered in a confined or incarcerated individual’s cost of attendance. Schools may include the following in a confined or incarcerated individual’s cost of attendance: tuition, fees, books, course materials, supplies, equipment, and the cost of obtaining a license, certification, or a first professional credential. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

PEP-Q4: Do confined or incarcerated individuals need to complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®)?

PEP-A4: Yes. Confined or incarcerated individuals must complete the FAFSA® to determine their eligibility for a Pell Grant. They can do so using the normal online application, or they may mail the Incarcerated Applicant Form to Federal Student Aid for processing. The Incarcerated Applicant Form for 2023-2024 is available here:  English version; Spanish version. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

PEP-Q5: Are schools required to offer courses using a particular method of delivery or mode of instruction?

PEP-A5: No. Classes offered to confined or incarcerated individuals through an eligible PEP may be offered in any format. If the classes are offered using distance education or correspondence, the school must be approved to offer classes in those formats by the school’s accrediting agency, as well as the oversight entity (the Federal Bureau of Prisons or State Department of Corrections) if applicable. Any of these agencies or entities may also prohibit or restrict a method of delivery or mode of instruction.

Additionally, a school that offers an eligible PEP to confined or incarcerated individuals at a correctional facility through distance education or correspondence courses will be required to report that facility as an additional location, even if the school is not otherwise offering instruction at the physical location. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

PEP-Q6: Are schools with approved PEPs subject to the 25 percent limit of regular enrolled students who are incarcerated provided under 34 CFR 600.7(a)(1)(iii)?

PEP-A6: Yes. Schools risk losing eligibility for Title IV, HEA funds if more than 25 percent of the school's regular enrolled students were confined or incarcerated individuals. However, under 34 CFR 600.7(c) schools apply for the waiver of this requirement through their regional School Participation Division if the school provides four-year or two-year educational programs for which it awards a bachelor's degree, an associate degree, or a postsecondary diploma and has continuously provided an eligible PEP approved by the Department under subpart P of 34 CFR part 668 for at least two years. Please note this waiver is not automatic upon approval of a PEP. If the Department grants a waiver, we will increase the limit up to 50 percent for five years, after which we will increase it up to 75 percent unless we limit or terminate the waiver.

We granted a waiver to some schools to exceed 25 percent enrollment of confined or incarcerated individuals prior to July 1, 2023. Schools that received a waiver prior to the implementation date of these regulations were permitted to enroll up to 100 percent of confined or incarcerated individuals. Although such schools are not required to re-apply for a waiver under the new provisions, the Department will limit the growth of incarcerated enrollment at those schools to ensure consistent program quality and adequate oversight. Beginning on the implementation date of July 1, 2023, we will limit the enrollment of incarcerated individuals in any such school to 50 percent in the first five years after the regulations take effect. We will raise the cap to 75 percent if we grant an additional waiver after the initial five-year period (requests for waivers will be reviewed and approved by the Department on a case-by-case basis). [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

PEP-Q7: If the name on the FAFSA® of an individual enrolled in a PEP is different than the name being used at the correctional facility and/or the correctional facility has issued a prison ID under the different name, how should the school resolve this?

PEP-A7: If the information provided by the student on their FAFSA® successfully matches with Social Security Administration records, the school must still document how it resolved the conflicting information.

If the Department selects the student for verification of identity, the school should work with the correctional facility partner to complete verification. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

PEP-Q8: Our school has identified some confined or incarcerated individuals who are eligible to receive both Veterans Affairs (VA) educational benefits and Pell Grant funds. VA benefits may not be reduced by the amount of a student’s Pell Grant award. How should the school treat students who receive both VA educational benefits and Pell Grant funds?

PEP-A8: Confined or incarcerated individuals may not receive Pell Grant funds in excess of their cost of attendance. Under the regulations at 34 CFR 690.62(b)(2), when a student receives both Pell Grant funds and other financial assistance, including educational benefits under a VA program, the school must first attempt to reduce the other financial assistance such that the total of that assistance and the individual’s Pell Grant funds do not exceed the student’s cost of attendance. If the other financial assistance cannot be reduced, such as VA benefits, the school must reduce the individual’s Pell Grant by the amount that the total financial assistance exceeds the individual’s cost of attendance. Both sources of aid must be treated as having paid educational expenses.

Under section 472 of the FAFSA Simplification Act, the cost of attendance for confined or incarcerated individuals is limited to tuition, fees, books, course materials, supplies, equipment, and the cost of obtaining a license, certification, or a first professional credential. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

PEP-Q9: Can confined or incarcerated individuals receive Title IV credit balances?

PEP-A9: No. To avoid situations where allowable costs are not included in the cost of the attendance, schools must include books, course materials, equipment, and supplies as part of institutional charges and either provide those materials directly to the individual or include the costs of books and supplies in the individual’s tuition and fees. If for some reason a credit balance is created, the school must return the Pell Grant funds associated with the credit balance to the Department and it will be credited to the student's remaining Pell eligibility. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

PEP-Q10: If a confined or incarcerated individual withdraws and their books and supplies are considered institutional charges for Title IV purposes, how are the books and supplies treated in a Return of Title IV funds (R2T4) calculation?

PEP-A10: Institutional charges are used to determine the portion of unearned Title IV aid that the school is responsible for returning and are included in Step 5 of the R2T4 calculation. For more information on R2T4, please see the most recent version of the FSA Handbook here: https://fsapartners.ed.gov/knowledge-center/fsa-handbook.  

For confined or incarcerated individuals, institutional charges always include tuition and fees. However, as described in the answer to PEP-A9, schools must include charges for books and supplies in their tuition and fees for confined or incarcerated individuals. Therefore, books and supplies are always institutional charges for such students. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

PEP-Q11: Can schools offer postsecondary educational programs in correctional facilities that are not "eligible prison educational programs"?

PEP-A11: Yes. However, only individuals enrolled in an eligible PEP may receive Pell Grants. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

PEP-Q12: Are schools required to follow the Return of Title IV Funds (R2T4) process for confined or incarcerated students who withdraw?

PEP-A12: Yes. If a confined or incarcerated student begins attendance in a payment period or period of enrollment and subsequently withdraws, the school must follow normal R2T4 requirements by performing the R2T4 calculation and returning a portion of the student’s Title IV funds if required by the calculation. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

PEP-Q13: What is acceptable documentation from a correctional facility to establish confined or incarcerated individuals’ eligibility for Title IV aid?

PEP-A13: A school may consider as acceptable documentation any documentation from the correctional facility that provides the information that the school has requested to establish the confined or incarcerated individual’s eligibility for Title IV aid, regardless of whether other information has been redacted from the material provided by the correctional facility. Documentation that establishes the student’s Title IV aid eligibility must be maintained without redactions for review by the school’s auditors, accrediting agency, the Department, and other relevant authorities. [Guidance issued 3/16/2023].

PEP-Q14: Is documentation obtained from the correctional facility (whether it be for student aid eligibility purposes or enrollment in the academic program) required to be a copy of an official record from the correctional facility?

PEP-A14: No. Documentation obtained from the correctional facility is not required to be a copy of an official record from the correctional facility. A statement from the correctional facility may be requested and accepted instead of official correctional facility records, provided the school documents the statement in its records and maintains those records for review by the school’s auditors, accrediting agency, the Department, and other relevant authorities. By accepting this type of documentation instead of official correctional facility records, schools can obtain the information needed for their records without having to maintain and protect other sensitive information. [Guidance issued 3/16/2023].

PEP-Q15: Should a school that receives documentation from the correctional facility that includes sensitive information about a student (e.g., criminal charges or correctional behavior records) redact that information from the documentation?

PEP-A15: In cases where schools are provided documentation from correctional facilities that include additional sensitive information not relevant to establish federal student aid eligibility, the school should work with its counsel to establish internal policies regarding redaction. The school should take into consideration applicable State laws, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and other privacy laws in determining whether to redact the information on the record. [Guidance issued 3/16/2023]

PEP-Q16: The regulations under 34 CFR § 668.236(a)(8) state that a school is prohibited from enrolling a confined or incarcerated individual in an eligible PEP that is designed to lead to licensure or employment for a specific job if that individual would be prohibited from obtaining licensure or employment for a specific job based on the law in the State where the facility is located or a Federal law.

Does a school have to consider anything other than State or Federal laws in deciding whether to admit a confined or incarcerated individual into an eligible PEP designed to lead to licensure?

PEP-A16: No. Under § 668.236(c)(3) schools are not required to consider local laws, screening requirements for good moral character (or similar provisions), State or Federal laws that have been repealed, even if the repeal has not yet taken effect or if the repeal occurs between assessments of the school by the oversight entity. Schools also do not have to consider other restrictions determined by the Department to be inapplicable. [Guidance issued 3/16/2023]

PEP-Q17: Under 34 CFR § 668.236(a)(7) and (a)(8) the Department lays out prohibitions on enrollment that lead to professional licensure or certification that schools must follow. Specifically, both paragraphs include a clause that requires schools operating eligible PEPs in Federal correctional facilities to determine the State where most confined or incarcerated individuals will reside post release. How does a school determine that?

PEP-A17: Each year, a school that offers a PEP at a federal facility must obtain information from the oversight entity to determine the State in which confined or incarcerated individuals enrolled in eligible PEPs at that school typically reside after release. In the event of an audit or program review, the Department would verify that the school has a documented reasonable policy for making the determination that it applies consistently each year, unless the policy is amended, and has received and considered the information from the oversight entity.

If the State that most confined or incarcerated individuals will reside upon release changes, the school must ensure that the eligible PEP(s) adjusts its educational requirements and prohibition on enrollment procedures to comply with the new State’s applicable laws. [Guidance issued 3/16/2023]

PEP-Q18: Does the limitation on enrollment of confined or incarcerated individuals to 25 percent of a school’s enrollment (discussed in PEP-Q6) apply to an educational program offered in a correctional facility if the school does not consider the program to be Title IV-eligible and does not disburse Title IV aid to students in the program?

PEP-A18: No. If a school does not consider a program offered in a facility to be a Title IV-eligible program and does not award or disburse Title IV aid to students enrolled in that program, the students in that program are not included in the school’s calculation of confined or incarcerated students as a proportion of its total enrollment of regular students. [Guidance issued 3/16/2023]

PEP-Q19: If we offer a PEP, can we charge students in that program a different amount than what we charge to students in the traditional on-campus version of the program?

PEP-A19: Schools may have different charges for students in different programs, but schools may not charge confined or incarcerated individuals a different amount than non-confined or incarcerated individuals who are enrolled in the same program. A school may determine that its PEP is a different program or a different version of the same program it offers traditional students, even if the credits and courses are the same. If your school determines that the PEP you plan to offer is a different program or a different version of the same, then you may charge a different amount to the enrolled confined or incarcerated individuals and you may have a different academic calendar for the PEP. [Guidance issued 3/16/2023]

PEP- Q20: The definition of a “confined or incarcerated individual” in 34 CFR § 600.2 states that the incarcerated student must be serving a “criminal sentence” in a Federal, State, or local penitentiary, prison, jail, reformatory, work farm, juvenile justice facility, or other similar correctional institution. However, we know that a youth that is “found delinquent,” is not the same as serving a “criminal sentence.” Are youths found delinquent considered to be serving a criminal sentence?

PEP-A20: No. Because a youth with a finding of delinquency is not serving a criminal sentence, they are not required to enroll in a PEP. Instead, they are eligible to participate in any Title IV program as long as they meet all applicable student eligibility requirements. This does not preclude youth with a finding of delinquency from enrolling in a PEP if one is offered at a juvenile justice facility.

If courts do not remand a finding of delinquency back to juvenile court, also known as a reverse waiver, the case proceeds, and they can convict youths as adults. If convicted as adults, they are ineligible for Title IV aid unless they enroll in a PEP. States with blended sentencing laws allow juvenile courts to combine juvenile dispositions with suspended criminal sentences. However, if youths fail to comply with juvenile disposition requirements and commit new offenses, courts can reinstate criminal sentences. Similar to states without blended sentencing laws, criminal sentences make them ineligible for Title IV aid unless they enroll in a PEP. [Guidance issued 3/16/2023]

PEP-Q21:What Federal civil rights and nondiscrimination requirements apply to schools that offer a PEP?

PEP-A21: Schools that participate in the federal student aid programs must comply with all applicable statutes and regulations related to civil rights and nondiscrimination for their locations and students, including for students enrolled in a PEP, arising under:

  • (a) Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin;

  • (b) Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex;

  • (c) Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability; and

  • (d) the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of age.

In addition, schools should be aware of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities, regardless of whether they receive Federal financial assistance and/or Title III of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability at public accommodations. Schools should consult legal counsel on how to comply with the laws that apply to their programs. [Guidance issued 6/2/2023]

PEP-Q22: How can schools learn more about civil rights and nondiscrimination requirements that may apply to operating a PEP?

PEP-A22: Please see the resources on civil rights and nondiscrimination resources below:

Guidance for all civil rights and nondiscrimination requirements: 

Title VI:

Disability rights:

Webpages, with the option to create printable versions:

[Guidance issued 6/2/2023]

PEP-Q23: Is an oversight entity allowed to require the submission of a form that it has developed in addition to the Department’s Prison Education Program Application to establish a PEP?

PEP-A23: Yes. An oversight entity may create and use its own form to collect information regarding a proposed PEP. There is nothing in the Department’s regulations or the HEA that requires the oversight entity to create a new form as part of its process to decide whether to approve or deny a PEP at a correctional facility that it oversees. [Guidance issued 6/2/2023]

PEP-Q24: A school is not eligible to participate in a PEP if more than 25 percent of the school’s regular enrolled students are incarcerated absent an approved waiver under 34 CFR § 600.7(a). The calculation is outlined in 34 CFR § 600.7(e). The regulations under 34 CFR § 600.7(e)(1) state that schools are to count a "regular student" defined under 34 CFR § 600.2 as a person "who is enrolled or accepted for enrollment at an institution for the purpose of obtaining a degree, certificate, or other recognized educational credential offered by that institution." However, under 34 CFR § 600.7(e)(1)(iii), the regulations state that school only count “regular students who enrolled during that award year.”

Do schools count students who actually enrolled or all students who were “accepted for enrollment” and actually enrolled at the school?

PEP-A24: Schools only count students who actually enrolled. Although the definition of regular student in 34 CFR § 600.2 includes students that are “accepted” for enrollment, the calculations under 34 CFR § 600.7(e) only include regular students that are enrolled at the school during the relevant award year. Therefore, schools do not include students that were accepted for enrollment but who did not begin attendance in the program pursuant to 34 CFR § 668.21 in the calculations required under 34 CFR § 600.7(e).

[Guidance issued 6/2/2023]

PEP-Q25: How does a school make the 25 percent calculation under 34 CFR § 600.7(e)(1) for incarcerated and non-incarcerated students?

PEP-A25: A school determines the number of incarcerated and non-incarcerated students who enrolled and began attendance at the school. The school then divides the number of incarcerated students by the total number of students to determine the percentage of students that are incarcerated at the school.
Example:

  • 120 students “accepted” under 34 CFR § 600.2
  • 105 students “enrolled” and who began attendance during the award year under 34 CFR § 600.7
  • 20 students of those 105 students are incarcerated students
  • 5 students withdrew or were expelled and received 100 percent refunds during the award year under 34 CFR § 600.7(e)(1)(iii)(A); 2 of the 5 were not incarcerated and 3 were incarcerated students
  • 17 incarcerated students/100 entire number of students = 17 percent enrollment of incarcerated students during that award year

[Guidance issued 6/2/2023]

PEP-Q26:  Under 34 CFR § 600.7, do all confined or incarcerated individuals count against the 25 percent limit or only those confined or incarcerated individuals who are receiving a Pell Grant?

PEP-A26: The calculation under 34 CFR § 600.7(e)(1) includes only confined or incarcerated individuals that are eligible for and receive a Pell Grant. [Guidance issued 6/2/2023]

Accreditation (AC)

AC-Q1: The school’s accrediting agency is required to evaluate the first PEP offered by a new method of delivery. What are methods of educational delivery?

AC-A1: Methods of educational delivery include in-person, distance education, correspondence courses, and direct assessment. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

AC-Q2: Is a school required to obtain approval for the first PEP at its first two additional locations at correctional facilities by its accrediting agency prior to Department approval?

AC-A2: Yes. The Department can only consider a school’s application to add an eligible PEP after it has obtained approval for the program from its accrediting agency under 34 CFR 668.237(b). [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

AC-Q3: Does the Department have specific requirements for a school’s accrediting agency to evaluate PEPs?

AC-A3: The Department includes requirements for an accrediting agency or State approval agency to evaluate a school’s PEP in regulation at 34 CFR 668.237(b). Those requirements include:

  • The evaluation of at least the first PEP at the school’s first two additional locations at correctional facilities;
  • The evaluation of the first additional PEP offered by a new method of delivery;
  • A site visit as soon as practicable, but no later than one year after initiating the PEP at the school’s first two additional locations at correctional facilities; and
  • The review and approval of the methodology for how the school, in collaboration with the oversight entity, made the determination that the PEP meets the same standards as substantially similar programs that are not PEPs at the school

These evaluations are to demonstrate that a school has the ability to offer and implement the PEP. The accrediting agency is expected to base its evaluation of the PEP on its standards, and, if approved, include the program in the school’s accreditation or preaccreditation. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

AC-Q4: 34 CFR § 668.237(b)(4) states that the accrediting agency must have reviewed and approved the methodology for how the school, in collaboration with the oversight entity, made the determination that the PEP meets the same standards as substantially similar programs that are not PEPs at the school. Do accrediting agencies have to conduct this review and approval during the two-year initial approval?

AC-A4: No. The Department acknowledges that the accrediting agency will not have to review or approve the best interest methodology for the first two years of the prison education program since the school could not detail the methodology the oversight entity used in making the best interest determination under § 668.241(a).

The Department intends to make a technical correction to the final rule to accurately reflect the timing of the review under § 668.237(b)(4). [Guidance issued 3/16/2023]

AC-Q5: Under 34 CFR § 602.16(a)(1)(ix), accrediting agencies are required to set clear expectations regarding the student complaints that a school or program must record. Does this apply to an eligible PEP?

AC-A5: Yes. The required record of student complaints is applicable to any school or program accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency, and it is expected that confined or incarcerated individuals would be able to submit a complaint via the school’s or program’s complaint procedure.

There are also several additional avenues available to incarcerated students for filing complaints. First, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights enforces several Federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance from the Department. Office for Civil Rights discrimination complaints can be filed by anyone who believes that a school that receives Federal financial assistance has discriminated against someone on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age. The person or organization filing the complaint need not be a victim of the alleged discrimination but may complain on behalf of another person or group.

Second, the Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid Ombudsman maintains a complaint process accessible at https://studentaid.gov/feedback-center/.

An incarcerated individual may also file a grievance or complaint using correctional channels. [Guidance issued 3/16/2023]

AC-Q6: As part of an oversight entity’s best interest determination, the oversight entity must consider the feedback from relevant stakeholders. Those relevant stakeholders must include accrediting agencies. How can an oversight entity identify the relevant accrediting agency to provide feedback in making the best interest determination?

AC-A6: The Department keeps a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies, including their contact information, here. If an oversight entity experiences difficulties establishing communication with an accrediting agency on the list, it should contact the Department’s Accreditation Group at aslrecordsmanager@ed.gov. [Guidance issued 3/16/2023]

AC-Q7: Our oversight entity created an advisory committee as defined under 34 CFR § 668.235. The oversight entity has asked the accrediting agency to join and become a voting member of the advisory committee. However, the accrediting agency believes this may be a conflict of interest. How should we proceed?

AC-A7:  The regulations require the oversight entity to have a feedback process and to obtain nonbinding input from relevant stakeholders, including accrediting agencies. The regulations do not require the establishment of an advisory committee.

If an accrediting agency is asked to provide nonbinding feedback via participation on the oversight entity’s advisory committee and believes a conflict of interest exists, it may provide feedback in another way. If the accrediting agency wants to participate on the advisory committee, it could raise the potential conflict(s) and suggest alternatives (such as serving in an ex-officio, non-voting role) to the oversight entity. [Guidance issued 6/2/2023]

Best Interest Determination (BID)

BID-Q1: The regulations indicate that for the oversight entity’s best interest determination, the assessment of student outcomes (e.g., job placement, earnings, enrollment post release, and rates of recidivism and completion) are optional. If the oversight entity decides not to assess these outcome indicators, will the Department view that negatively?

BID-A1: No. There is no requirement for oversight entities to assess student outcome indicators, although they may choose to do so. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

BID-Q2: How does an oversight entity make a best interest determination for a PEP?

BID-A2: As described in 34 CFR 668.241(a), two years following the Department’s initial approval of a PEP, the oversight entity for the PEP must assess:

  • Whether the experience, credentials, and rates of turnover or departure of instructors for the PEP are substantially similar to other programs at the school, accounting for the unique geographic and other constraints of PEPs;
  • Whether the transferability of credits for courses available to confined or incarcerated individuals and the applicability of such credits toward related degree or certificate programs is substantially similar to those at other similar programs at the school, accounting for the unique geographic and other constraints of PEPs;
  • Whether the PEP’s offering of relevant academic and career advising services to participating confined or incarcerated individuals--while confined or incarcerated, in advance of reentry, and upon release--is substantially similar to offerings to a student who is not a confined or incarcerated individual and who is enrolled in, and may be preparing to transfer from, the same school, accounting for the unique geographic and other constraints of PEPs; and
  • Whether the school ensures that all formerly confined or incarcerated individuals are able to fully transfer their credits and continue their programs at any of its locations that offers a comparable program, including by the same mode of instruction.

The oversight entity is required to establish a feedback process with relevant stakeholders, as defined under 34 CFR 668.235, to inform its decision. Any feedback received from relevant stakeholders is nonbinding, and the oversight entity has sole authority over the best interest determination. The oversight entity must document the steps it took to obtain feedback from relevant stakeholders, and the school must provide it to the Department upon request. The school is required to maintain this documentation under 34 CFR 668.241(f).

When determining if a PEP is operating in the best interest of confined or incarcerated individuals, the oversight entity considers the totality of the circumstances. This may mean that if the PEP fails one indicator it does not have to necessarily result in the termination of the PEP.

The oversight entity also makes the best interest determination at least 120 days prior to the expiration of the of the school’s Program Participation Agreement. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

Reporting Requirements (RR)

RR-Q1: What reports, data, or information must schools submit about their PEPs?

RR-A1: As described in 34 CFR 668.239, schools will be required to report transfer or release dates of confined or incarcerated individuals that they obtain through their written agreements with correctional facilities or oversight entities. We will provide more information regarding how to report this information soon.

The Department will also announce additional reporting requirements for PEPs through a Federal Register notice. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

RR-Q2: My school has begun gathering documentation to apply to offer an eligible PEP at a correctional facility. When can I update our Eligibility and Certification Approval Report (ECAR) through the Electronic Application for Approval to Participate (E-App) to add a correctional facility as an additional location?

RR-A2: The Department will alert schools when they may begin updating the E-App. It is anticipated that schools will be able to update their E-App once the PEP Approval form has received final OMB clearance and the Department has made the form available to schools. [Guidance issued 3/16/2023]

RR-Q3:  Schools are required to report to the Department the transfer and release dates of confined or incarcerated individuals enrolled in their PEPs by having an agreement with the oversight entity. Our correctional partner cannot provide future transfer information because this information is sensitive and known only to a few individuals in a facility. How should we proceed?

RR-A3: For the purposes of federal student aid, the only requirement is that the oversight entity provide the school with the actual date that the student was released. This does not preclude a school from setting a higher standard for partnership with a correctional facility, but Department regulations do not require the oversight entity to comply with the higher standard. The expectation is that an agreement can be reached on what information is exchanged. The Department needs the date that the student was actually released to fulfill the HEA’s requirement for an annual report on PEPs outcomes to Congress and the public. [Guidance issued 6/2/2023]

Student Eligibility (SE)

SE-Q1: We have an individual who is eligible for Pell Grant and Direct Loan funds and was enrolled in a program through distance education, but following a recent arrest, is now in pretrial detention awaiting trial. The individual wants to continue their education while in jail. Does that student need to be enrolled in an eligible PEP in order to continue receiving Pell Grant funds?

SE-A1: No. That individual may continue receiving Pell Grant or Direct Loan funds until criminally sentenced. The definition of a “confined or incarcerated individual” under 34 CFR 668.2 specifies that for the definition to apply the individual must be “serving a criminal sentence.” Therefore, an individual who has not been sentenced is not considered a confined or incarcerated individual and, if otherwise eligible, may continue to receive all forms of Title IV aid.

If the individual is ultimately sentenced to serve either in jail, prison, or another carceral facility, at that point, they would no longer qualify for subsequent disbursements of Direct Loan funds and would need to be enrolled in an eligible PEP in order to receive Pell Grant funds. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

SE-Q2: Is an individual considered to be confined or incarcerated if they are in a halfway house or home detention?

SE-A2: No. The law specifically provides that an individual who is in a halfway house or home detention, or sentenced to serve only weekends, is not a confined or incarcerated individual.

For Federal student aid purposes, an individual is a “confined or incarcerated individual” if that individual is serving a criminal sentence in a Federal, State, or local penitentiary, prison, jail, reformatory, work farm, juvenile justice facility, or other similar correctional institution. If an otherwise-eligible student is not considered a confined or incarcerated individual, the individual qualifies for all Title IV programs, including Direct Loan funds, and is not required to be enrolled in an eligible PEP in order to receive Pell Grant funds. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

SE-Q3: How do I know if a student has been identified as incarcerated in the Central Processing System (CPS)?

SE-A3: In the 2023-2024 award year, the student’s Student Aid Report/Institutional Student Information Record (SAR/ISIR) will include Comment Code 406 if the Incarcerated Applicant Flag indicates that the student is confined or incarcerated. The value of the student’s Incarcerated Applicant Flag also appears on the ISIR; a value of 1, 2, or 3 indicates that the individual has been identified as incarcerated. More information is available in the 2023-2024 ISIR Guide. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

SE-Q4: Some of the students in our PEP have completed the FAFSA®, but their ISIR did not include the Incarcerated Student Indicator flag. What is the financial aid office required to do when this happens?

SE-A4: When a school is aware that the student is incarcerated but the student’s ISIR does not include an Incarcerated Applicant Flag indicating that the individual is confined or incarcerated, the school must add the flag. The school must mark the Incarcerated Student Indicator on the ISIR and submit the change as a correction to CPS to resolve the conflicting information. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

SE-Q5: What are the requirements for a financial aid office when a student is released from incarceration?

SE-A5: When a confined or incarcerated individual is released, they generally become fully eligible for Title IV, HEA funds, including Direct Loan funds, and are no longer required to be enrolled in an eligible PEP in order to qualify for Pell Grant funds. If, after being released, the student enrolls in another Title IV-eligible program in the same award year as when they were enrolled in the PEP, the financial aid administrator should submit a correction to the student ISIR removing the Incarcerated Applicant Flag from the student’s record in FAA Access as soon as possible. Schools should also ensure that future post-release disbursements are associated with the ISIR transaction that reflects the removal of the Incarcerated Applicant Flag to ensure that those disbursements are not associated with the PEP. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

SE-Q6: Is a confined or incarcerated individual who receives Pell Grant funds subject to Pell lifetime eligibility limitations?

SE-A6: Yes. Confined or incarcerated individuals are subject to the same annual and lifetime limits on Pell Grant eligibility as any other student. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

SE-Q7: A confined or incarcerated individual has enrolled in the past in a program that was privately funded. The private funds the student received exceeded his costs and as a result the student received a credit balance. If our school begins offering an eligible PEP and the student becomes eligible for Pell, how do we package the private funds with the Pell?

SE-A7: Students become eligible for Pell in the payment period during which the PEP gains eligibility. If the private funds were received for a payment period that ended before the PEP became eligible, those funds would not necessarily affect the student’s Pell eligibility in subsequent payment periods.

If private funds were received for the cost of the program for the same payment period for which the student gains eligibility, other considerations arise. 34 CFR § 690.62 states that a Pell Grant, in combination with other financial assistance the student has received, cannot exceed the confined or incarcerated student’s cost of attendance (COA). In this case, because the Pell Grant would cover the student’s entire COA and combining the Pell Grant with the private funds would cause their COA to be exceeded, the private funds must be returned. If the private funds cannot be returned, the Pell Grant must be sufficiently reduced such that COA is no longer exceeded. Any Pell Grant funds that may need to be returned to the Department will be credited to the individual's remaining Pell eligibility. [Guidance issued 3/16/2023]

SE-Q8: Our school currently waives all charges for tuition and fees and does not charge for books and supplies for confined or incarcerated individuals. Can a confined or incarcerated individual at our school still receive a Pell Grant?

SE-A8: No. For a student to receive a Pell Grant, there must be at least some educational cost incurred by the student. Because cost of attendance for confined or incarcerated individuals only includes tuition, fees, books, and supplies, if the student incurs no charges for any of those items the student will not be eligible for Pell Grant funds.

Therefore, if your school wishes to award Pell Grant funds to students in a PEP, it must amend its policy and charge tuition, fees, books, and/or supplies to students. You may choose to include the cost of books and supplies in the individual’s tuition and fees, but in that case you must comply with the requirements under 34 CFR 668.164(c)(2) and maintain an arrangement with a book publisher or other entity that enables it to make those books or supplies available to students below competitive market rates and ensure that you provide a way for students to obtain those books and supplies by the seventh day of a payment period. [Guidance issued 3/16/2023]

SE-Q9: Our State Department of Corrections is currently legally required to pay for the confined or incarcerated individual’s education up to the first four-year degree.

If we decide to apply the Pell Grant to each student’s account first but want to continue to fund education expenses beyond what the confined or incarcerated individual receives through the Pell Grant, is that allowable?

SE-A9: No. A school cannot provide scholarships and/or tuition discounts in a manner that treats non-Title IV and Title IV students differently. For example, a school is not permitted to waive all costs for non-Title IV students while covering only a portion or no amount of a student’s costs when they receive Title IV aid.

However, in cases involving confined or incarcerated individuals, a school can commit to providing scholarships that cover a student’s full costs for all students who enroll in the eligible PEP. It may then reduce those scholarships when the confined or incarcerated individual receives a Pell Grant to ensure that the confined or incarcerated individual is not over-awarded. Thus, there is no differentiation between types of individuals with respect to the scholarship – all individuals enrolled in the eligible PEP would qualify for the scholarship, but only those who receive Pell Grant funds would have their scholarships reduced. Schools would simply be following the requirements for providing Pell Grants, which the Department has established cannot, when combined with other assistance, exceed a confined or incarcerated student’s COA.

Note that a school is not required to seek Pell eligibility for a postsecondary program operating at a correctional facility. A program offered in a correctional facility that is not an eligible PEP could continue to be funded as it has been in the past. [Guidance issued 3/16/2023]

SE-Q10: Are confined or incarcerated individuals required to comply with a school’s satisfactory academic progress (SAP) policies?

SE-A10: Yes. Confined or incarcerated individuals are required to comply with a school’s SAP polices. The PEP regulations did not make changes to the SAP regulations. The SAP regulations outline the minimum standards that a school must consider in evaluating a student’s progress to completion. If a student fails to meet a qualitative or quantitative standard there are mechanisms that allow for flexibility, such as financial aid warnings and SAP appeals. Schools are strongly encouraged to consider circumstances outside of a confined or incarcerated individual’s control, such as lockdowns within a correctional facility, as a valid reason to grant a SAP appeal.

A school’s SAP policy must be at least as strict as that school’s SAP policy for students enrolled in the same program of study who are not receiving Title IV funds, and it must apply equally to all students within categories, e.g., full-time, part-time, undergraduate, and graduate students. If the eligible PEP is considered a separate and unique program offered to confined or incarcerated individuals you may develop a separate SAP policy specific to that eligible PEP.

For more information on the requirements around SAP, please see Volume 1 of the most recent FSA Handbook. [Guidance issued 3/16/2023]

SE-Q11: In instances where we are assisting an incarcerated student with completing a FAFSA online, and we find that the FSA ID has been disabled, are there special protocols to have the FSA ID enabled for that student where they cannot access contact with the Department for assistance?

SE-A11: Yes. In these situations, email FSAIDVerifyPell@ed.gov for assistance in activating a confined or incarcerated individual’s FSA ID. [Guidance issued 3/16/2023]

SE-Q12: How can a confined or incarcerated individual who is selected for verification and unable to submit a signed and notarized Statement of Educational Purpose fulfill this requirement?

SE-A12: Per our answers in PEP A13 and A14, a school may accept a signed statement from an authorized official that works for the correctional facility or authorized official that works for the oversight entity confirming to the school that the individual who completed the FAFSA and was selected for verification is the person signing the Statement of Educational Purpose. [Guidance issued 6/2/2023]

SE-Q13: A confined or incarcerated individual that has been admitted into our PEP is eligible for both Pell and Post 9/11 GI Bill education benefits (PGIB). Both sources will cover their entire program. Which funds should the confined or incarcerated individual accept, and which should they decline?

SE-A13: The Department does not take a position on which form of aid the confined or incarcerated individual should accept or decline. Per our answer in PEP-Q9, a confined or incarcerated individual cannot accept both if doing so would result in their COA being exceeded. Confined or incarcerated individuals who are eligible for both Pell and PGIB can choose which aid to use.  Here are some factors for a student to weigh when they decide:

  • Pell and PGIB are not limitless; both can be exhausted.
  • PGIB can cover the costs of graduate school. The Pell Grant can only cover of the first undergraduate baccalaureate course of study and a post-graduate teacher certification or licensure program. Teacher certification programs will not be common PEPs.
  • While incarcerated, PGIB can cover tuition and fees and certain non-federal student aid eligible training programs. While incarcerated, the Pell Grant can cover allowable costs in federal student aid eligible programs (see PEP-A8).
  • Post release PGIB provides a monthly housing allowance that would be forfeited if the student accepts PGIB while incarcerated. For Pell, after release, a school may be able to include housing costs in the COA, however even the maximum Pell Grant may not be enough to cover the student’s housing need.
  • PGIB eligible students may opt to defer using their PGIB until post release and may be eligible for monthly housing allowance at that time.
  • A student’s monthly housing allowance total benefit is based upon if the student earned the full benefit by serving at least 36 months active duty, or if they earned a prorated percentage by serving at least 90 days (for 50%) up to 35 months (for 90%).
  • The monthly housing allowance amount depends on whether the student is enrolled at a full-time rate, as certified by their school. Their amount is prorated for those enrolled less than full-time, but at least half-time. Students enrolled less than half-time will not receive a monthly housing allowance.

[Guidance issued 6/2/2023]

Application Process for Eligible PEPs (APP)

APP-Q1: My school already offers a Title IV-eligible program in a local jail. Do we still have to submit an application for the first two PEPs at the school’s first two additional locations at carceral facilities?

APP-A1: Yes, you must submit the full application as outlined in 34 CFR 668.238(b). You must submit the longer application for the first program at the first two additional locations. For subsequent programs that are established at the same location, you must provide the documentation required under 34 CFR 668.238(c). Schools have until July 1, 2029, to transition the program. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

APP-Q2: Can my school allow a confined or incarcerated student enrolled in a Title-IV eligible program in a local jail prior to July 1, 2023, to continue to receive Pell after July 1, 2023, or does the program need to be converted to an eligible PEP?

APP-A2: A confined or incarcerated individual who otherwise meets the eligibility requirements to receive a Federal Pell Grant and is enrolled in a Title IV-eligible program prior to July 1, 2023, that does not meet the requirements under 34 CFR 668, Subpart P may continue to receive a Federal Pell Grant until the earlier of—

  • (1) July 1, 2029;

  • (2) The student reaches the maximum timeframe for program completion under 34 CFR 668.34; or

  • (3) The student has exhausted Pell Grant eligibility under 34 CFR 690.6(e).

New students who enroll in the program on or after July 1, 2023, cannot qualify for Pell Grants unless the program meets the requirements for an eligible PEP under 34 CFR 668, Subpart P. [Guidance issued 12/14/2022]

APP-Q3: Do schools that enroll confined or incarcerated individuals in any portion of the program that takes place outside the correctional facility (such as when incarcerated students receive study release) need to complete the PEP application and approval process for those individuals to be eligible for Pell Grants?

APP-A3: Yes. Schools that enroll confined or incarcerated individuals must complete the PEP application and approval process for those confined or incarcerated individuals to be eligible for Pell Grants if any part, or even a majority, of the program takes place outside the correctional facility. Effective July 1, 2023, HEA Section 484(t)(3) restricted Pell Grant eligibility for confined or incarcerated individuals to individuals enrolled or accepted for enrollment in a PEP. [Guidance issued 6/2/2023]

APP-Q4: What location should a school report when a portion of its proposed PEP takes place outside the correctional facility?

APP-A4:Schools applying for a PEP report the correctional facility as an “additional location” consistent with its definition in 34 CFR 600.2 beginning on July 1, 2023. Schools must also report as an additional location any other site in which more than 50 percent of the PEP where they provided federal student aid will take place. For example, if a school has a PEP and transports confined or incarcerated individuals to an external site that is not already an approved location for the school, and more than 50 percent of the program will take place there, the school must report that site as an additional location as part of the PEP application and approval process. [Guidance issued 6/2/2023]

Second Chance Pell (SCP)

SCP-Q1: Where can we find more information on the Second Chance Pell experiment?

SCP-A1: Generally, information about the Second Chance Pell Experiment can be found here: https://experimentalsites.ed.gov/exp/index.html.

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 postsecondary educational schools 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. [Guidance issued 6/2/2023]



   
Last Modified: 06/02/2023