Chancellor King Announces SUNY's Office of Higher Education in Prison Receives $3 Million Grant from Ascendium to Expand Higher Education in Prison Programs

January 30, 2024

The Grant Will Allow SUNY to Build Programs in Eight More Prisons to Create Opportunities for Upwards of 700 Additional Students

SUNY Educates Hundreds of Incarcerated Individuals Each Year to Promote Upward Mobility

Albany, NY – State University of New York Chancellor John B. King, Jr. today announced the SUNY Office of Higher Education in Prison (OHEP) has received a $3 million grant from Ascendium to expand the system’s higher education in prison programs. SUNY OHEP supports 14 campuses that deliver degree programming inside 23 correctional facilities and serve 1,000 students each year.

Ascendium, a non-profit organization, funds initiatives to help individuals from low-income backgrounds achieve upward mobility while also investing in education-focused innovations to improve learner outcomes; and provides information, tools, and counseling to help millions of borrowers successfully repay their federal student loans.

With this grant, the largest Ascendium higher education in prison grant to date, SUNY will increase educational opportunity and equity for incarcerated New Yorkers, and collaborate with the National Association of Higher Education Systems (NASH) on a national research study to better understand how public state systems of higher education are responding to the return of federal and state public funding to bring educational opportunity programs to incarcerated students.

"SUNY is dedicated to expanding opportunity and upward mobility through providing higher education to more incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students," said SUNY Chancellor King. "Since becoming chancellor, I’ve had the privilege to attend commencements at correctional facilities, and throughout my career I have seen first-hand the positive impact education has on these individuals. It gives our students the power to strive for a second chance upon re-entry into society."

The SUNY Office of Higher Education in Prison has identified three specific areas to utilize the grant funding:

  • Expanding and Enhancing SUNY’s Community of Practice: OHEP will continue to provide technical assistance to its community of providers while helping campuses launch new programs and coordinating with the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to develop policies and reduce barriers to better serve students. This area will also focus on implementing faculty professional development training and campus community events centered around the voices and experiences of formerly incarcerated students, faculty, and staff within the SUNY System.
  • Regrants to Campuses, "The Equity Fund": Equity funds will be used to support campuses in increasing student access to programs and scaling quality programming by addressing equity gaps.
  • National Association of System Heads (NASH) Partnership: OHEP plans to collaborate with the National Association of System Heads to conduct research and enhance its outreach to state university systems across the country to facilitate collaborative learning to establish a network and community of practice. The project will focus on the role, responsibilities, challenges, and opportunities unique to state public systems of higher education, especially those related to Pell funding for higher education in prison.

SUNY Higher Education in Prison Executive Director Rachel Sander said, "SUNY not only has a public responsibility to increase access to a more equitable system of higher education for those who are incarcerated, but the existing infrastructure, geographic presence, expertise, and leadership to do so in a systemic way. This funding will allow us to expand our work on the local, state, and national level by removing barriers on the student level, changing policy and practices on the campus level, and building community with other public higher education systems on the national level.

Ascendium Senior Program Officer for Education Grantmaking Molly Lasagna said, "We are thrilled to be a supportive partner of SUNY's Office of Higher Education in Prison as they grow into an intermediary and technical-assistance provider for all Postsecondary Education in Prison programs operating within SUNY institutions. Rachel and her team are standard bearers for what it looks like to create opportunities for incarcerated learners to experience success across an entire state."

National Association of Higher Education Systems President Jason Lane said, "With the reinstatement of Pell, public higher education systems are ideally positioned to ensure public funding can increase access and equity to higher education for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students. However, it is critical that these programs are delivered with the quality that all students deserve. NASH is proud to partner with SUNY and our other member systems to research best practices and bring higher quality programs to incarcerated students. Through our network of public higher education systems across the country, the lessons learned by SUNY and other member systems can be disseminated to the field for collective impact. We thank Ascendium and SUNY for this exciting opportunity."

New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Acting Commissioner Daniel F. Martuscello III said, "Access to higher education is undoubtedly one of the most effective rehabilitative tools for incarcerated individuals, having a significant impact on both their experience while incarcerated as well as their reentry into the community. Under the leadership of Governor Hochul, we are committed to expanding college programs to all New York State prisons and welcome the opportunity to amplify SUNY’s footprint across correctional facilities statewide. I look forward to working with SUNY on this expansion and commend Ascendium Education Group for their support through this funding."

Since 2017, the SUNY HEP team has led SUNY System Administration’s efforts to expand and improve college opportunities for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, guided by longitudinal data collection and data analysis. SUNY anticipates eight additional campuses launching higher education in prison programs and establishing programs at seven new state prison facilities in the 2024-2025 academic year pending Pell application approval. This would bring SUNY’s presence in higher education in prison programs to 22 campuses offering degrees in 30 state prison facilities.

The work has been supported by external grants, totaling $3.6 million, from funders including the Mellon Foundation, the District Attorney of New York, and Jobs for the Future (through the Ascendium-funded Ready-For Pell-Project). For more information, please visit this website:

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the country’s oldest school of maritime, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2023, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunities, visit

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