Classes started last week for college students across the nation, including 30 new students enrolled at Augustana College through the Augustana Prison Education Program (APEP) at the East Moline Correctional Center. This program is the first Second Chance Pell Experimental Site in Illinois to use Second Chance Pell grants from the U.S. Department of Education to pay for tuition.

“The APEP students are driven to succeed. They express their thanks every day, sometimes literally and often in the effort they take to be prepared for every class every time. They make their professors proud. APEP is a joy,” said Dr. Sharon Varallo, Executive Director of APEP.

Last year, Augustana applied for and was selected to participate in the Second Chance Pell Initiative to provide the education program inside the prison. The Second Chance Pell Initiative was expanded for the 2022-2023 award year and allows individuals in custody to attend post-secondary education programs using Pell grant funding. This is the first program of its type in Illinois since incarcerated people were banned from accessing Pell grants in 1994. This partnership between Augustana College and the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) aims to recognize best practices to share with the larger higher education community in Illinois. Persons in custody will have full access to Pell grants by the summer of 2023.

“Pell restoration is a tremendous opportunity to expand partnerships between colleges and correctional agencies to deliver high-quality education to individuals in custody,” said Rob Jeffreys, Director of IDOC. “The work of Dr. Varallo, her team of educators and staff at East Moline Correctional Center were essential to establishing the robust and effective program that exists today. Launching a Second Chance Pell site is an important step to prepare IDOC for full restoration next year.”

“We are thrilled that Augustana applied and was approved for this opportunity,” said Alyssa Williams, Assistant Director of IDOC. “We look forward to continuing our partnership with them and deepening IDOC’s understanding of how to prepare for Pell restoration next year. We anticipate it will become an essential part of expanding access to academic college courses across the Illinois prison system.”

APEP is a full-time, liberal arts, Augustana College Bachelor of Arts degree program that is offered to individuals in custody at the East Moline Correctional Center. Students take Augustana coursework from the same faculty who teach on the college’s main campus in Rock Island. APEP was started in 2021 with funds from the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation and sustained with donations from community organizations and private donors. As a Second Chance Pell Experimental Site, Augustana can utilize need-based Pell grants to pay for the costs of college for individuals in custody. This semester, the 30 students enrolled in APEP will take full-time coursework, with the option to select from eight different courses, including Principles of Economics, Introduction to Liberal Arts, and Writing Poetry, among others. Augustana plans to offer courses during the winter session and the spring semester.

“East Moline is proud to partner as an arm of IDOC with Augustana in this collaborative agreement. We look forward to what the future holds as Pell grants will likely increase opportunities for individuals in custody to receive a post-secondary education. We have seen how providing access to excellent education sets individuals up for success as they re-enter back into society,” said Amber Allen, Assistant Warden of Programs at East Moline Correctional Center.