Guidelines and Policies, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Our Guidelines and Policies

Language Guidelines

The Alliance believes that language is a powerful tool in shaping the culture and narrative in the field of higher education in prison, and in society as a whole. With this in mind, and drawing upon the rich history of work that has previously been engaged on this topic, we want to express our opposition to the usage of terms that are rooted in a history of violent and oppressive systems. Along with a vast majority of our community members, we share the view that terms such as “prisoner”, “inmate”, “offender”, “convict” and “felon” are stigmatizing, dehumanizing, discriminatory and continue to enact violence and do not acknowledge an individual’s full identity. We consider it standard practice to abstain from such language, unless you have experienced incarceration and choose to self-identify as such.

Our efforts are guided by a practice of conscious communication and the use of person-centered language (e.g., person who is currently incarcerated, person with justice involvement, to name only a few). This statement is meant to express the Alliance’s stance and preference on the usage of language and we commit to sharing this statement with participants in all public events, meetings and sessions hosted by the Alliance.

For anyone wishing to learn more about the various works that have been generated by colleagues across the country, many of whom are directly impacted by the prison system and have been leading voices in these efforts, please refer to these resources:

The Center for Nuleadership on Urban Solutions: An Open Letter to Our Friends on the Question of Language

The Fortune Society: Words Matter

The Marshall Project: The Language Project

The Opportunity Agenda: Social Justice Phrase Guide

The Osborne Association: Resources for Humanizing Language

Underground Scholars: Language Guide for Communicating About Those Involved in the Carceral System

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Resource Sharing Guidelines

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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.


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://).


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


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.


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

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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.


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.

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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
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Why Do We Do This Work?

The Alliance and its stakeholders believe that all people, regardless of whether or not they are currently or formerly incarcerated, should have access to high-quality and free higher education.

Higher education in prison provides the support, community and human connection that all people need to thrive. This work is critical and urgently needed to address the intergenerational failure of the education system for people who are currently and formerly incarcerated, an injustice that disproportionately impacts communities of color. 

What are the Alliance’s Commitments?

The Alliance commits to a long-term strategy that is two-fold: First, building solidarity with groups of activists, with those directly impacted by the prison system, and with scholars who are working toward the abolition of prisons and the creation of livable communities. Second, centering our efforts on facilitating and creating spaces and projects that foster conversations, generate collaborations, and produce action aligned with our core beliefs. We will regularly revisit our commitments in order to hold our work and ourselves accountable.

We are committed to doing this work while simultaneously working toward the end of the prison system.

In carrying out our work, we strongly oppose:

●     Private prisons and corporate profit;

●     Racist and xenophobic policies;

●     For-profit education;

●     Telecommunications providers that profit from incarcerated people and their families;

●     Policies and practices that withhold or restrict access to technologies, resources, and materials needed to succeed as a college student;

●     The use of technology as a means of surveillance; and

●     The death penalty.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list, but rather highlights those matters that are critical to the contemporary moment.

Our ultimate vision for the future is one where the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison is no longer needed because the prison industrial complex and its originating structures cease to exist.

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.

We are in the process of exploring community-centric fundraising models and mutual aid. We believe the money and other resources spent on incarcerating people must be reallocated by investing in building stronger communities where the thriving of all individuals is prioritized through an equitable redistribution of services, opportunities, and wealth.


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.

The Alliance opposes for-profit education, predatory practices that exploit students, and policies and practices that withhold or restrict access to technologies, resources, and materials needed to succeed as a college student.

What do we mean by "quality" higher education?

The Alliance does not seek to provide a fixed definition or set of criteria to determine the quality of individual programs. While there are some generally agreed upon metrics for quality in the field of higher education, we understand the term to be fluid and dependent on the circumstances of individual programs, to some extent. We promote intellectually rigorous, student-centered, free higher education. For a more in depth discussion on quality, see the Equity and Excellence in Practice guide.

Who is part of the Alliance?

The Alliance is an inclusive network that supports 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 and internationally.

Our events, resources and programs are open to any individual and/or program that is interested in participating.

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 reentry support services to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. The conference also serves as an opportunity to engage and struggle with the topics, issues and ideas that are most relevant to the higher education in prison community. We envision the conference as a space of knowledge exchange and an occasion to enliven political conversations in the field.

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. Since then, the conference has grown to include hundreds of participants each year.

How much does it cost to host the 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. Conference costs are covered by a combination of registration fees and the remaining costs are off-set by the Alliance’s fundraising efforts specific to the conference and general operating budget. The NCHEP Financial Aid program is only supported by the Alliance's fundraising efforts and not through registration fees.

Who plans the NCHEP?

The Alliance for Higher Education in Prison first hosted the NCHEP in 2017, the 7th annual conference. Planning was a collaboration between staff, the Alliance Advisory Board, and a planning committee made up of 12-15 self-nominated community members. After carefully compiling comprehensive Exit Reports (available here), which include extensive feedback from the community and the team’s honest assessments of previous NCHEPs, the Alliance decided to perform several changes in the way the conference will be planned, starting in 2021. More specifically, the Alliance’s intention is to continue evolving in the way it engages the community, and in the ways the community can engage the Alliance and the broader field of higher education in prison in return. In an effort to offer opportunities for more community members to participate in the planning process, we will solicit community suggestions, ideas, and feedback through multiple open discussions and surveys on topics such as the conference theme, keynote speakers, special events, etc. The Alliance believes that these efforts will generate a significant structure for the planning of the 2021 NCHEP and of future conferences. Visit the NCHEP webpage to stay updated about the most current National Conference on Higher Education in Prison.  

The Alliance staff provides financial oversight. The Alliance Advisory Board and staff are responsible for the Financial Aid Program, including determining the mechanisms for decision making.

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

Anyone who does not have 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 get more information?

There are three ways to find out more information and/or ask questions:

  1. Publicly: 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