Project History and Methodology

In 2008, the Prison Studies Project at Harvard University began compiling a list of higher education in prison programs throughout the United States. For the next 10 years, the National Directory of Higher Education Programs in Prison remained a central focus of the Prison Studies Project and an important resource for the higher education in prison community. Today, working with our partners at the Research Collaborative on Higher Education in Prison at the University of Utah, and the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, the Alliance for Higher Education distributes the Annual Survey of Higher Education in Prison Programs and hosts the National Directory of Higher Education in Prison Programs (2020), which serves as a comprehensive resource for people seeking information about college in prison programs in the United States.

Data for the 2020 Landscape of Higher Education in Prison report are drawn from two sources: responses to the 2020 Annual Survey of Higher Education in Prison Programs (n = 131) and program information retrieved from a dataset compiled by the Research Collaborative on Higher Education in Prison (Research Collaborative) for known programs that did not complete the Annual Survey (n = 169).

The Annual Survey of Higher Education in Prison was launched in March 2020. An invitation to take the survey was sent to the primary contact email address of all higher education in prison programs included in a database compiled by the Research Collaborative on Higher Education in Prison between 2015-2019 (N = 278) and also distributed as a link through a public listserv of higher education in prison stakeholders. The survey consisted of 77 questions, gathering descriptive program information for the 2018-2019 academic year (July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019). Questions included where programming was offered and to whom, what certificate and degree pathways were offered, and what additional programming existed for incarcerated students.

Some programs did not answer all survey questions, accounting for the varying range of sample sizes reported throughout this analysis. Some programs had multiple representatives who participated in the survey, and when that occurred, responses from different program affiliates were combined to create one entry for that program. Participants were entered into a drawing to receive one of five $1,000 awards for participation.

Once survey collection was complete, data was retrieved for programs included in the Research Collaborative’s database that did not respond to the 2020 Annual Survey. These data were then compiled with the 2020 Annual Survey data to create one database with information from all known programs. Information for the Research Collaborative’s dataset were collected through extensive online research and communication with program administrators via email and phone during 2019. Researchers contacted program leaders to verify information and received responses from over half of program contacts during the data collection period. Through this process, the Research Collaborative collected information for 289 higher education in prison programs.