What you need to know about financial aid for convicted felons
For students who’re incarcerated or those convicted of a felony (but are no longer incarcerated), there’re still opportunities to access financial aid for college and other educational programs. To access this aid, you need to understand the requirements and stipulations that may come with your current or previous incarceration.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the things you need to know about obtaining financial aid in this particular situation, along with recent changes to the law that might impact your eligibility.
Are there convictions that’ll affect financial aid eligibility?
Until recently, if someone had been convicted of a sexual offense and was subject to an involuntary civil commitment upon completion of incarceration, they were not eligible to receive a Federal Pell Grant. That changed in July 2023. Now, those subject to an involuntary civil commitment for a sexual offense may still qualify for a Federal Pell Grant.
As a refresher, the Pell Grant is a need-based grant for students provided by the federal government to help pay for college and other post-secondary schooling that does need to be repaid. To determine your eligibility, you must first file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).
Can you get financial aid while on parole or probation?
For the most part, if you’re on probation or parole or living in a halfway house, you’ll be eligible for financial aid. For instance, individuals on parole, probation, or living in a halfway house may qualify for the Pell Grant if enrolled in an eligible education program. Federal Student Aid has outlined what constitutes an eligible program on Studentaid.gov.
Can you get financial aid following a drug conviction?
Drug convictions no longer affect federal financial aid eligibility, a change that went into effect in 2021. When completing the FAFSA®, applicants will be asked whether they’ve had a drug conviction that happened while receiving federal aid. If the answer is yes, there will be an additional worksheet to fill out. The answers to these questions won’t affect your eligibility, though.
Can you get financial aid while incarcerated in a federal or state institution?
You may qualify for a Federal Pell Grant if you’ve been convicted, are incarcerated in a federal or state penal facility, and are enrolled in an approved prison education program. Check with your correctional facility’s educational director to determine if your facility will partner with a school to offer a qualifying program.
According to Federal Student Aid, for the 2023-24 academic year, if you’re in a federal or state institution:
- You can get a Federal Pell Grant if you meet the other eligibility requirements
- You can’t receive federal student loans
- You’re eligible for Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)
- You’re eligible for Federal Work-Study (FWS). However, obtaining these funds may be difficult because of the logistical difficulties of performing an FWS job while incarcerated
If you’re incarcerated in a facility other than a federal or state facility:
- You may be eligible for a Federal Pell Grant
- You’re not eligible for federal student loans
- You may be eligible for FSEOG and FWS
New opportunities related to financial aid for incarcerated individuals
The Second Chance Pell Experiment was established in 2015 to provide Pell Grants to incarcerated students to allow them to participate in post-secondary education programs. While this isn’t a direct grant paid to a student like the original Pell Grant, it helps students get matched with, and pays for education and training programs to advance their skills and knowledge while they’re incarcerated.
The program was expanded in 2022 and now includes a larger number of participating schools, too. There have also been changes to the requirements for the institutions that can participate in this program. Plans for the Second Chance Pell Experiment and for participating schools to transition to the new statutory and regulatory requirements will be announced at a later time.
In addition to the Second Chance Pell Experiment, the U.S. Department of Education announced a change in policy around defaulted student loans as they relate to incarcerated individuals. Incarcerated individuals qualify for a “fresh start,” which returns borrowers with defaulted loans to repayment in good standing and allows them to access programs like the Second Chance Pell Experiment. The U.S. Department of Education will also allow incarcerated individuals to consolidate their loans to help them exit default in the long term.
Federal Student Aid suggests completing the FAFSA® each year even if you think you’re ineligible for federal aid. That’s because most schools and states use FAFSA® information to award non-federal aid and you could be eligible for those funds even if you aren’t eligible for federal aid. Keep this in mind if you’re confused about eligibility stemming from an incarceration or conviction.