What federal student aid is available for felons?

Education and student aid are keys to felons moving forward
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A felon is a person who has committed a felony. Often we focus on the felony and forget about the person. If a person is to rise above their prior acts, education serves as a key to new perspectives and opportunities. Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, had clear thoughts on the goal of education. “The goal of education is not to increase the amount of knowledge but to create the possibilities for a child to invent and discover, to create men who are capable of doing new things.” Likewise, those with a criminal past who want to start on a positive path need access to education. So, what student aid is available for a felon?

What types of federal student aid are available for felons?

1. Federal Student Loans

Federal Student Loans – The U.S. Department of Education can become your lender. They offer you fixed terms typically at better interest rate than traditional lenders. Also, your federal loans do not have to be repaid until education is completed or student drops below half time. There are four types of direct federal student loans:

  • Subsidized Loans – for students, based upon financial need
  • Unsubsidized Loans – for students, not based on financial need
  • PLUS Loans – for graduate or professional students and parents of dependent undergraduate students, not based on financial need
  • Consolidation Loans – allow you to combine all of your eligible federal student loans into a single loan with a single loan service

2. Federal Pell Grants

Federal Pell Grants – Pell grants are awarded you as a student directly. They are awarded only to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need. Pell Grants are for students who have not earned a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree. You do not typically have to repay.  Amounts available to you will depend on these four factors:

  • Your expected family contribution,
  • The cost of attendance (determined by your school for your specific program),
  • Your status as a full-time or part-time student, and
  • Your plans to attend school for a full academic year or less.

The Department of Education has provided a list of Federal Student Grant Programs.

3. Federal Work Study (FWS)

Federal Work Study (FWS) – Provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need. Hence, FWS allows you to earn money to help pay education expenses. Often job opportunities are community based or in your field of study.

4. Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) – Administered by the financial aid office at participating schools. Therefore, grant money is designated to the schools and awards are based upon determination of need conducted by the school. You do not usually have to repay these grants.

Student aid for felons provides opportunity for growth

Is a felon eligible for student aid while incarcerated?

If you are currently in prison, access to federal student aid is limited, but it is not impossible. The Department of Education reminds all interested to pursue education, regardless of your background. Even if you’re not eligible for federal student aid, you may still be eligible for aid from your state or school. For a more detailed breakdown Federal Student Aid for Students in Adult Correctional and Juvenile Justice Facilities

Is a felon eligible for student aid once out of prison?

Felons will find that opportunities to pursue education with assistance increases once they have been released from the prison. According to the Office of the U.S. Department of Education, “Once you’re released, most eligibility limitations will be removed. In fact, you may apply for aid before you’re released so your aid is processed in time for you to start school.” You can start with the types of federal student aid listed above.

Are there examples of felons who have found success through education?

Stephen Richards – prisoner to professor

Stephen Richards went from serving 9 years for marijuana to earning his bachelor’s degree while in prison, continuing his journey on to his doctorate and becoming a professor at Northern Kentucky University.  ”Ex-cons make good criminology professors because we know so much about the system,” Mr. Richards said. ”There are academics who feel somewhat threatened because we’re challenging their expertise. Very few venture into prisons, and they never really get it.” He continues his work with others who have risen through similar tribulations, to reform the criminal justice system from within.

Curtis Carroll – education while incarcerated

Curtis Carroll learned to read while incarcerated and has taught himself the game of the stock market as well. The two skills came together for him as learning to read unlocked a pathway to follow the money. Carroll says, “Being illiterate is like being in a bubble. Being uneducated affects the way people move in life, it affects what they become in life.” Curtis will tell you his own story in his TED Talk.

Curtis “Wall Street” Carroll learned to read while in prison

Why should tax paying citizens support felons access to student aid?

Marc Harmon is a professor of government and law at Georgetown University and director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative. Access to education is directly linked to a reduction of re-incarceration. Reducing recidivism is creating a safer nation with less violence and fewer dollars allocated toward maintaining mass incarceration. Harmon cites a 2013 RAND Corporation study, which found education for incarcerated students reduced their odds of returning to prison by 43 percent. Professor Harmon commented that education, “Takes them down a different road. Instead of going back into crime, they have more productive pursuits and further their education and integration in society.”

Watch this short video of how Kyle Von Stroberg utilized education to rebuild his life and has set about to assist his fellow ex-convicts to do the same.

How can a felon get started pursuing student aid?

  1. Reach out to advisers while incarcerated to research colleges and scholarships.
    • This could be based upon location – whichever college is closest to your home, or it could be based upon occupation – if you have a specific career in mind that you would like to pursue.
    • You can request information from the institutions that you are interested in. Ask about the application process as well as what grants, scholarships and loans are available
  2. Fill our your FASFA, this will begin the process to determine which federal loans and/or grants you may be eligible for
  3. Apply to colleges
  4. Apply for grants, scholarships and loans which can come from the federal government, state government, the schools you are applying to as well as community organizations

We all win when felons pursue education

Remember a felon is a person who has committed a felony. Once that person has served their sentence it is in the best interest of society for that person to pursue a path that leads them on an upward path. When felons access education through student aid, we all can win. Our incarceration rates in the United States are world class, if we could invest those resources in providing resources to recycle lives rather than continuing to chain them we could work towards a better future. United Purpose Network is working to create a database of local resources that will help felons, families and communities to locate the resources necessary to help them recycle lives.



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