Augustana College’s Prison Education Program will get a $1-million grant over 10 years from the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation, the college announced Monday.

The sustaining grant will provide APEP $100,000 annually, allowing the program to serve more
students with greater resources, according to a Monday release. It also will allow for a more comprehensive college and transitional experience. This includes access to better library and technological resources, more guided research and internship opportunities, as well as return-to-career-readiness programs.

All APEP classes are taught by Augustana faculty at the East Moline Correctional Center (EMCC), and the curriculum mirrors the college’s liberal arts focus. Dr. Sharon Varallo, professor of communication studies, pioneered Augustana’s program based on the Bard Prison Initiative
(BPI) in New York
— one of the country’s most effective prison education programs.

Dr. Sharon Varallo interacting with APEP students at the East Moline Correctional Center (photo by Chris Ferman).

“The Austin E. Knowlton Foundation is delighted to continue to partner with Augustana and Dr.
Varallo’s team at APEP to provide long-term core funding support for this exceptional effort to
bring Augie classes and degrees to Quad Cities residents whose lives can be dramatically
transformed by access to education,” said Eric Lindberg, trustee and chief investment officer of
the Knowlton Foundation and trustee of Augustana College.

“The Knowlton Foundation is committed to being an innovative partner to colleges and
universities, including enabling access to education in ways that empower justice while
benefiting all of society,” Lindberg said. “We’re grateful to Augustana, the Illinois Department of
Corrections and all parties who have united to positively change the lives of these men.”

APEP launched in the fall of 2021 with a $225,000 seed grant from the Knowlton Foundation.
No Augustana institutional or tuition funds are used to finance the program. APEP is supported
through the generosity of individual, foundation and corporate donors.

Augustana College in Rock Island (which broke a fundraising record for the 2021-22 fiscal year) started the Prison Education Program in fall 2021.

Ten individuals incarcerated at the correctional center attended APEP classes in 2021-2022,
pursuing a bachelor’s in communication studies. A total of 24 students were admitted for the
2022-2023 school year. With the Knowlton funding, the college hopes to add American studies
as a new major choice to APEP participants.

APEP students are the first in Illinois to draw upon the new Second Chance Pell awards from
the U.S. Department of Education. The program enables individuals in custody to participate in
post-secondary education programs with Pell grant funding. This is the first program of its type
in Illinois since formerly incarcerated persons were banned access to Pell grants in 1994, the college release said.

In addition to the Knowlton Foundation grants, the program has won broad philanthropic
support. This includes a $50,900 award from BPI for the installation of a computer lab and a
$20,000 grant from the Regional Development Authority in Davenport, to fund the hiring of
an administrative assistant to serve as liaison between APEP and Augustana offices, the EMCC, Illinois Department of Corrections, and community services.

Research shows that graduates of prison education programs like APEP are about 20 times
less likely to return to prison after their release, the college said. According to Dr. Varallo, for every dollar spent on college classes for incarcerated people, five dollars are saved on the cost to the community.

Strong foundation support over years

The Austin E. Knowlton Foundation was established to promote the ideals of higher education,
support student success, and enable colleges and universities to create more rewarding and
inspiring educational experiences.

The group has been a strong supporter of Augustana over many years, including funding for the 52,000-square-foot Peter J. Lindberg, M.D., Center for Health and Human Performance, which opened on campus in August 2021.

The Lindberg Center at Augustana College opened in August 2021 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

The Austin E. Knowlton Foundation gave $10 million for that $18-million project.

An avid sportsman, Knowlton was an original founding partner of the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals, where he served as chairman. He also held a major ownership interest in baseball’s Cincinnati Reds for many years. A graduate of The Ohio State University, Knowlton in 1981 established his namesake foundation to empower future generations of students and to support the institutions dedicated to educating them.

Given his passion for football, the foundation partnered with Augustana in 2013 to create the Austin E. Knowlton Outdoor Athletic Complex, which includes the Charles D. Lindberg Stadium and the Ken Anderson Club, which have been called “the best Division III football and track & field facilities in the nation,” according to

In addition to the $9-million grant for these athletic facilities, Austin Knowlton also funded Augustana’s large Austin E. Knowlton Memorial Scholarship, as well as the college’s Honors program. One of his lifelong friends was Charlie Lindberg, a 1950 Augie alum (older brother of Peter Lindberg) who was a Cincinnati lawyer, a founding trustee of the Knowlton Foundation, and became Augie’s longest-serving trustee, on the board for 29 years.

For more information on the foundation, visit its website.