Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and Policies


Why Do We Do This Work?

The Alliance and its members believe all people, regardless of their location or circumstance, should have access to quality higher education. Higher education in prison addresses the support and human connection that all people need to thrive. It also addresses the lack of resources and systems of injustice that currently exclude some people from getting a college education.

What are the Alliance’s goals?

Our goals are to build the field of higher education in prison by working to define the practices and theories that constitute high-quality teaching and learning in prison and articulating the meaningful metrics, quality standards, and indicators that should guide programming and the broader development of the field. We are working to identify and understand the multiple stakeholders that are engaged in the work of higher education in prison, to connect those stakeholders to each other, and to improve quality and support excellence in their work by providing a central infrastructure of theories and practices. Over the next three years the Alliance will implement programming to enhance the quality of new and existing higher education in prison programs across the country and support the academic and professional development of currently and formerly incarcerated students.

What is the history of the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison?

In 2015, at the 5th National Conference on Higher Education in Prison (NCHEP), a plenary session was hosted and the idea of national organization was introduced. That same year a survey was distributed to NCHEP participants and on the Higher_Ed Listserv to collect input on the idea of a national organization. In December 2015, funding was received to support the Strategic Planning Process to Found a National Organization of Higher Education in Prison. Mary Gould, Saint Louis University Prison Program and Sean Pica, Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison co-chaired the Strategic Planning Process. For the next 18 months facilitated meetings were hosted across the country and a national survey and focus group project was engaged. More than 300 stakeholders collectively participated in the strategic planning process. In June 2016, a Strategic Planning Committee was formed (13-member committee) and collected the feedback from the planning process and wrote the Alliance’s Prospectus Report and a vision for the creation of a national organization for higher education in prison. Later that year, a national invitation was distributed to invite nominations and self-nominations for the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison Founding Advisory Board. In January 2017 a Founding Advisory Board was named and the Alliance began hiring full-time staff.

How is the Alliance Funded?

The Alliance is a project of Community Partners (fiscal sponsor) and operates under Community Partners’ status as a tax-exempt 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. As a project of Community Partners, the Alliance is able to receive foundation grants and other charitable donations. The majority of the Alliance’s financial support comes from foundations, with a much smaller portion coming from individual donors.

You can learn more about the Alliance’s funders on the About Us page.

What do we mean by higher education?

The Alliance for Higher Education in Prison considers “higher education” to be a specific teaching and learning experience. The purpose and outcomes of higher education in prison should not be conceived of as distinct from higher education on an outside campus. Higher education in prison includes:

  • courses provided to students who have earned a high school diploma, GED/HiSet, or equivalent secondary credential;
  • courses and programs provided by or in close partnership with a postsecondary accredited institution;
  • instruction provided by two-year and four-year colleges and universities with public, private, or nonprofit status;
  • credit or not for credit coursework;
  • degree, certificate/certification or non-degree granting pathways; and
  • courses for college preparation.

This definition is drawn from years of gathering of practitioners, current and former students, advocates, researchers, higher education administrators, and others at the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison, as well as the outcome of a multi-year stakeholder engagement and strategic planning process. This definition is in alignment with other national organizations, including the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and American Association of Colleges and Universities.

What do we mean by "quality" higher education?

The Alliance and its members believe that the development of the field of higher education in prison must be guided by an unwavering commitment to quality. Higher education in prison programs should adhere to the same high standards and opportunities that exist in other quality higher education contexts, in spite of students’ incarceration status.

  • “Quality” higher education in-prison programs include those that are academically rigorous and student centered, meaning that students have opportunities to cultivate social, professional and civic leadership skills.
  • “Quality” higher education in-prison programs are multidisciplinary, including humanities, social sciences, math, and science, and include intensive college preparatory courses.
  • “Quality” higher education in-prison programs situate creativity, collaboration, critical inquiry and independent thought as the cornerstones of student or academic work.

Who is part of the Alliance?

The Alliance is an inclusive network supporting all those working to expand quality higher education for currently and formerly incarcerated people.

Our community includes practitioners, currently and formerly incarcerated students, teachers and many other stakeholders from across the United States.

What is the purpose of the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison (NCHEP) and when was it first hosted?

The overall purpose of the NCHEP is to provide an annual opportunity for the higher education in prison community to gather and mobilize the talent, resources, and energy needed to expand access to quality higher education and academic reentry support services to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. The Education Justice Project at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, hosted the first NCHEP, in 2010.  About 75 people attended the 2.5-day conference.

How much does it cost to host the is NCHEP?

The cost of the NCHEP fluctuates from year to year, depending on the number of attendees and the city where it is hosted. On average the cost of the conference is between $175,000.00 and $250,000.00. Some of the conference costs are covered by registration fees (50-75%) and the remaining costs are off-set by the Alliance’s fundraising efforts. The cost of the NCHEP, outlined here, does not include the cost of the Financial Aid programs, which is supported by grant funding raised by the Alliance and is not funded by registration fees paid by attendees.

Who plans the NCHEP?

The Alliance for Higher Education in Prison first hosted the NCHEP in 2017, which was the 7th annual conference. The Alliance Advisory Board and staff collaborate with community members to form the planning committee. The Planning Committee is comprised of 12-15 community members who plan the major components of the conference (keynote and plenary session speakers, presentation submission reviews and acceptance/rejection, special events and other activities). The Planning Committee is chosen by the Alliance Advisory Board and staff from a pool of self-nominations. The Committee represents the diversity of the higher education in prison stakeholder community, including people formerly incarcerated. The Alliance staff works to support the planning committee and engages in fundraising and provides financial oversight. The Alliance Advisory Board and staff are responsible for the Financial Aid Program.

Who can apply for a NCHEP Financial Aid package and how are the scholarships funded?

Anyone without institutional/program travel support is eligible to apply for a financial aid package, but formerly incarcerated students are prioritized. Financial Aid is funded by private foundation support that is raised by the Alliance. Financial Aid is not funded by registration fees paid by participants.

How can I ask more questions?

There are three ways to find out more information:

  1. Publicly: On the Prison_Ed Listserv (Join the Listserv) or by joining the Alliance's mailing list (Join the Mailing List)
  2. Privately: Directly to our email:
  3. Privately and anonymously: Use the Contact Form on our website

Our Policies

Resource Sharing Guidelines

The Alliance for Higher Education in Prison is invested in ensuring that higher education in prison programs across the country have opportunities to engage in peer-to-peer learning. We encourage programs to share information and resources and to learn from each other, in an effort to improve the quality of all higher education in prison programs. Please refer to the following citation guidelines when utilizing or adapting program materials.

The Alliance for Higher Education subscribes to the Creative Commons Attribution: NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA). All materials shared on the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison’s website follow this license. This copyright licensing allows others to remix, adapt and build upon work for non-commercial purposes, as long as they credit and license their new creations under the identical terms.

While material provided may often fall within 'fair use' or 'fair dealing' provisions, we recommend adding a preferred citation to each document you share, in order to ensure that others will engage in appropriate attribution of materials. The Alliance offers two sample citation format options below, but programs are welcome to choose another preferred citation format or a format in accordance with your discipline’s recognized citation requirements.

Online Resource

Author Last Name, Author First Initial or Organization Name (if not authored by an individual author(s). (year). Title of document. Location (City, State): Organization. Retrieved from: website (without www. and/or http://).

Online Resource Example Authored by Individual Author(s):

Johnson, E., & Wright, P. (2014). College in Prison Project Student Handbook. Topeka, Kansas: Kansas College in Prison Project. Retrieved from:

Print Resource

Author Last Name, Author First Initial or Organization Name (if not authored by an individual author(s). (year). Title of document. Location (City, State): Organization.

Print Resource Example Authored by Program:

Kansas College in Prison Project. (2014). College in Prison Project Student Handbook. Topeka, Kansas: Kansas College in Prison Project.

Community Wellness

All staff, members, volunteers and event participants are accountable for conducting themselves in a manner that upholds and promotes the Alliance's values. We expect everyone to promote a culture of sensitivity, inclusivity, care, understanding and patience, trust and integrity. We believe that everyone is an equal member of our community and has the right to an environment that is inclusive and welcoming. If we are to be a healthy community we must care for each other and treat each other with respect, including the language we use. Our policies and procedures are not only designed to minimize risk and do no harm, but also to support each other and to respect the community and environment in which we live and work. We will continue to review and improve our processes, including our policies, to enhance our everyday conditions and ensure a healthy experience for all.

Indirect Cost Policy

Indirect costs are general overhead and administration expenses that support the entire operations of a grantee and that may be shared across projects. Examples of indirect costs include the salary and related expenses of individuals working in rent, utilities, equipment and services such as accounting, IT and legal. Indirect costs are not normally charged directly to a Federal award, but are allocated equitably to all of the organization’s activities. Expenses that would be incurred regardless of whether the grant is funded are often indicative of indirect costs. While these costs may not be directly attributable to a project, they are real and necessary to operate as an organization.

The Alliance’s Maximum Indirect Cost Rates

Indirect cost rates for grants are subject to the following limitations:

0% rate: government agencies or colleges/university

Up to 10% rate: independent non-profit organizations (501c3) or non-profit organizations with fiscal sponsor status

A grantee or contractor with an actual indirect cost rate lower than the maximum rate provided above should not increase the funding request to the maximum allowed.

The potential grantee should communication with the Alliance in advance of submission if there are questions or concerns about the indirect cost rate.

Communication Policies

  1. We are committed to open and transparent communication
  2. We value face-to-face communication, when possible
  3. We encourage feedback, discussion
  4. We make time, each week for discussion
  5. We value diversity of thought
  6. All communication must be truthful and ethical
  7. We are committed to communicating both good and bad news in a reasonable timeframe, ensuring both expedience and thoughtful consideration
  8. We believe in treating all members of our community in ethical and responsible ways, including using humanizing language