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]

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]

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]

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]

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]



   
Last Modified: 12/13/2022