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Claflin awarded Second Chance Pell Grant by DOE
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Claflin awarded Second Chance Pell Grant by DOE

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Claflin University is among 67 colleges and universities recently selected to participate in the Second Chance Pell Grant Pilot Program funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

The grant represents the DOE's expansion of the Second Chance Pell program which provides need-based Federal Pell Grants to individuals incarcerated in federal and state prisons. The grants allow incarcerated individuals to receive federal funding to enroll in post-secondary programs offered by local colleges and universities or distance learning

"Claflin University was founded in 1869, to offer high-quality academic programs to all students -- regardless of gender, race, religion or ethnic origin. Our participation in the Second Chance Pell Grant Program reflects the university's commitment to the principles on which this institution was founded," said Dr. Dwaun J. Warmack, Claflin's ninth president.

A 2019 USA Eisenhower Fellow, Warmack's research during his fellowship explored global best practices for reducing mass incarceration through education and rehabilitation.

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"Research has indicated a dramatic reduction in recidivism rates for incarcerated individuals who participate in prison education programs. A quality education is the gateway to empowerment and plays a critical role in the successful reentry of formerly incarcerated people into their respective communities. This grant is also consistent with the university's vision statement, which includes our focus on developing a diverse and inclusive community of globally engaged visionary leaders, and one of Claflin's essential core values -- our commitment to valuing people."

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Dr. Belinda Wheeler, associate professor of English at Claflin, is the grant's principal investigator.

"This grant is transformative for Claflin University, the local community and the state of South Carolina," Wheeler said. "During the roughly eight-month grant process, I collaborated with various important groups around the country, including correctional institutions, and Healthy Routines, a Columbia-based non-profit that offers non-degree programs in correctional facilities in South Carolina. Claflin's new program builds upon the growing number of organizations and programs in this critically important space including The Alliance for Higher Education in Prison, Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison, Alabama Arts and Prison Education Program, and Columbia University's Center for Justice. UNCF President Dr. Michael Lomax recently congratulated Dr. Warmack on Claflin's selection, so we also hope to work with UNCF on this initiative."

The program is the progeny of the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Program, an initiative that began in 2015. This year's Experimental Sites cohort will bring the total number of participating institutions to 130 colleges and universities in 42 states and Washington, D.C.

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"I've had the pleasure of visiting several Second Chance Pell institutions and have seen firsthand the transformative impact this experiment has on the lives of individuals who are incarcerated," said DOE Secretary Betsy DeVos in a recent release announcing the grant. "By expanding this experiment, we are providing a meaningful opportunity for more students to set themselves up for future success in the workforce. The stories I've heard from students and institutions engaged in the experiment are very encouraging, and we look forward to seeing how this expansion will help even more students achieve a better future."

More than 180 colleges and universities submitted letters of interest to participate in the second cohort of the Second Chance Pell Experiment. Claflin and the other institutions selected were determined to be the most qualified; their selection ensures institutional, programmatic and geographic diversity among new participants.

The timing of Claflin's acceptance into the DOE's Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites program aligns with Claflin's Center for Social Justice, a new university initiative. The center, directed by Wheeler, will promote higher education in prisons through their "Pipelines from Prison Program" and foster collaborations and greater understanding of social justice issues throughout the campus community and the region.

"The center will also work across academic disciplines to develop programming related to the impact of higher education on imprisoned populations regionally and nationally," Wheeler said. "We hope also to be a conduit for services and resources for incarcerated students, recently released students and graduates or for residents of the community seeking information about this and other social justice issues.

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“We plan to start the program during the fall 2020 semester; however, we are not certain how much access we will have to incarcerated students due to COVID-19."

For more information about the Second Chance Pell Grant Program, the Center for Social Justice, and Claflin's Pipelines from Prison Program, contact Dr. Belinda Wheeler at bwheeler@claflin.edu or 803-535-5717.

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