Question about college class payment (specifically grants) for undocumented inmates~

Hello!  I'm looking for any information or wisdom I can pass along to some of my students.  I teach GED classes in a maximum security facility in Kansas, and I encourage my students to make this a first step in the educational journey.  The initial wave of excitement that spread through our facility because college classes are finally starting up 'behind our walls' has given way to some disappointment or anger as undocumented inmates are finding out they won't qualify for Pell Grants.  

Do any of you know of other grant programs or funding opportunities for this population?  I like to encourage positive hope and optimism, so I'm hoping there's something I can steer these particular students towards.  Thanks in advance for any pearls of wisdom!  :)


Michelle, this is a great topic.  I did some inquiry on this not long ago because our IET programs are funded typically through Nebraska GAP grants to individual students, which require some type of legal status in the U.S. and Nebraska residency.  Bummer, because at the Adult Education level, it is a non-issue in our state, but post-secondary opportunities seem to present a real barrier for students who don't have some type of immigration or refugee status and document.

Two things I've been telling students who don't have some type of documented status.  One is, if you pay cash for your classes at our community college, no one is going to ask you to prove your status.  They will ask for your social security number, but you can just refuse to give it and they will enter all zeroes.  I know some students who have done exactly that, because our tuition rates are fairly low for in-state students.  This also works well for students who do not yet have a high school diploma or GED.  But probably not so well for the incarcerated.

I also encourage adult students at our institution to apply for scholarships, both college-based and from private foundations and organizations, such as Hispanic Scholarship Foundation (HSF) for DACA recipients.  Our community college scholarship director told me that there is no specific immigration status requirement on the scholarships administered through his office.  And there are a lot of them.  Many students don't bother applying because they don't think they are talented and could get one.  It helps that my cc (which offers classes in jails and prisons) has a master application for all scholarships.  Also, every student who graduates from our GED program gets one free college class as their graduation gift.

In my experience, federal student aid is not the best option for many adult students because of the paperwork burden (incl. parents, spouses, and ex-spouses) and strict rules on having a high school diploma or GED, academic performance, course completion, drug convictions, course load, immigration status, etc.  Failing courses is punished.  Uncle Sam wants students to play by his rules and it doesn't work for a lot of people.  Just as well, because grants don't go very far and a lot of what's on offer is loan aid, which really isn't any help at all.

I'd love to hear from others on this topic.

Hi. We do some work with Graduate Philadelphia (there are others across the country) and they help people navigate student loans that were in default, or work through funding issues. Small payment plans are options and some cities that help fund their community colleges are providing substantial, and in some cases free, courses. It takes some homework and phone calls, but funding doors are opening wider and will continue to do so as the Pell Grant relief takes hold. 

Additionally, there are a number of foundation and scholarship opportunities that are available in correctional education and student should definitely be applying for these grants.

I completely understand the frustration for the men/women in your facility and we need to encourage them to keep trying. Resources like the Graduate network can be of great assistance. I would be more than willing to direct you to a few others doing great work in this space for guidance.

Jeff A

I appreciate the guidance into specific places to begin looking!  I'll check out the possibilities offered in our state through this network, and if you think of other great places to look, share away!  :)