The New England Commission on the Future of Higher Education in Prison (“the Commission”) was a key initiative of the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) and The Educational Justice Institute at MIT (TEJI) chaired by Drs. Lee Perlman and Michael K. Thomas.

While the Commission’s origins were regional, it sought to catalyze a national initiative and assume a broader leadership role in the United States.


The Commission’s 83 members worked to develop 15 recommendations to align institutions, policymakers, prisons, and industry to increase the academic, socioemotional and career readiness of system-involved people—and facilitate their successful transitions to work and sustained contributions to the well-being of the region and nation. 20% of the Commission’s membership were comprised of system-involved leaders and advocates.

On June 7, 2023, the Commission delivered its final report with recommendations for higher education leaders, policymakers, departments of correction and employers ahead of the July 2023 reinstatement of Pell Grants for eligible incarcerated students.


Accordingly, key areas for investigation and deliberation by the Commission included:

Credential Completion and Time to Degree

  • Scaling access and credential completion despite transfer and release (two impediments to degree completion)
  • Integrating credential pathways across institutions and the use of technology/remote education delivery, a successful method during the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Program and policy innovations to address timely completion of degrees, including pathways back to higher education institutions post-release
  • Providing comprehensive access to liberal arts, STEM and CTE training depending on incarcerated students’ skills and interests

Labor Market Success and Upward Socioeconomic Mobility

  • Engaging business leaders to address align educational and thriving-wage career opportunities, as well as identify strategies to increase hiring of people who start or complete a degree behind bars in high-growth careers
  • Program and support service improvements to provide better career counseling and post-release “learn and earn” models to support students’ workplace and economic success

Working Groups

Members of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education in Prison had the opportunity to join one of four unique Working Groups, each with a specific focus in an area relevant to the prison education and employment systems. Working groups convened in-person and remotely six times over the course of the Commission.

Resource: Member-Created “Regional MOU Template”*

In addition to curating recommendations for the Commission’s final report, members of the Partnerships & Policy Alignment Working Group created a “Regional MOU Template” over the course of the Commission. This document may serve as a resource for states seeking to strengthen student-centered and equity-focused agreements between higher education institutions and departments of correction.

Click here to access the member-created “Regional MOU Template.”

*Note: Members or affiliated organizations do not claim that the information contained in this document guarantees compliance with state or federal rules addressing prison education programming. Regulatory language and references are subject to change. The information should not be considered legal advice and legal questions should be directed to legal counsel.

Working Group: Access, Cost and Funding

While a variety of diverse prison education programs exist across New England, the demand for educational programming can sometimes exceed providers’ capacity–and demand is anticipated to grow with the reinstatement of Pell Grants for incarcerated learners in July 2023. This Working Group explored opportunities for expanding prison education programming in the region to reach more students with new and existing program delivery models. For instance, this Working Group explored the use of synchronous online education as a means of reaching more incarcerated students across the region. Additionally, this group sought to identify ways that postsecondary programming can be delivered more equitably. This Working Group explored potential costs of scaling program provision, along with funding sources, such as state investments in carceral facility infrastructure, technology expansion and student support services.

Working Group: Program and Delivery Models

Misalignment among the correctional, higher education and employment sectors has made it challenging to deliver high quality, credential-bearing postsecondary education programs in prisons across the U.S. For instance, current transfer and release policies often prevent incarcerated students from completing postsecondary programs once enrolled. Including questions about educational background and goals in the intake and transfer processes was an area of exploration for this group. This Working Group explored models for delivering innovative prison education programming that embeds high-quality instruction and student supports throughout an incarcerated person’s time in carceral facilities to help scale student success and degree completion in New England.

Working Group: Partnerships and Policy Alignment

The Commission aimed to secure long-term, structural changes to the prison education system in order to better serve New England’s system-involved populations. To do so, this Working Group focused on strategies for strengthening partnerships among policymakers, departments of correction, higher education institutions and systems, community organizations serving system-involved people, businesses and other key stakeholders to facilitate more successful transitions out of the carceral system, as well as reduce recidivism and increase employment in the region. Policy alignment is instrumental in creating and solidifying these pathways, as well as maintaining the interconnectedness among the varied organizations, institutions and systems involved in prison education.

Working Group: Career, Workforce and Employer Connections

In the wake of Covid-19, employers around the region experienced labor shortages; even before the pandemic, many experienced a dearth of applicants bearing the skills and credentials needed for successful employment. Formerly incarcerated people represent a wealth of talent that is often untapped due to stigma and a misalignment of their skills upon release with the current needs of employers. This Working Group has a unique opportunity to explore methods for improving the career-readiness of incarcerated learners by increasing work-based learning opportunities (e.g., internships, apprenticeships) and aligning credential offerings to current career and workforce opportunities. This group worked to deepen partnerships among departments of correction, higher education institutions and employers to improve incarcerated people’s ability to obtain thriving-wage employment while addressing employers’ demand for a highly skilled workforce.