September 25, 2015 - Issue 238 -- OCTAE Connection

OCTAE Newsletter

September 25, 2015

Earlier FAFSA, Easier Process

In an action related to the America’s College Promise initiative, the president is fulfilling his intention to make applying for federal aid more convenient. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) schedule has been altered to give students more time to gather the information needed to make wise college enrollment decisions. 

The new FAFSA schedule enables many students and their parents to fill out the FAFSA form earlier than they previously could. Beginning Oct. 1, 2016, students and families will be able to complete the form for the 2017–18 academic year at the same time they fill out their college applications. (Previously, the FAFSA became available each year on Jan. 1.)  To facilitate this change, students and their families will be able to use their previous year’s tax return (for example, from 2015) when applying for financial aid, rather than being required to wait to submit the FAFSA application until after they have completed the current year’s return (for example, for 2016). This in turn will enable colleges to send out financial aid notifications earlier, and students to have more time to make informed decisions about their college choices.

Jobs for the Future Releases Report on Education and Employment Strategies for People Transitioning From Correctional Facilities

Jobs for the Future (JFF) recently released a brief on previously incarcerated individuals, Supporting Second Chances: Education and Employment Strategies for People Returning from Correctional Facilities. It includes background data on the state of the reentry problem, examples of reentry programs that have demonstrated positive results, and recommended changes shown to benefit the employment and educational opportunities of former inmates. 

The brief indicates that over 2 million individuals are incarcerated on any given day in the United States, with over 700,000 people transitioning out of state and federal correctional facilities each year. These numbers demonstrate the urgent need to increase help for youths and adults involved in the criminal justice system that will allow them to reintegrate into their communities and become productive members of society. Research shows that “full-time employment is one of the primary predictors of their success,” according to the brief.  It also provides details on strategies for increasing education and employment pathways, and identifies specific policy and program priorities that would improve the capacity of former inmates to connect with these pathways in order to transition efficiently.

To illustrate the benefits of reentry programs, the brief highlights efforts being carried out in Colorado. This state’s reentry specialists focus on the most important and immediate needs of recently released inmates — such as housing, food, and employment — and they typically see the inmates through the first three to six months of their transition. According to the brief, Colorado “also encourages cross-training with local service providers, such as faith- and community-based organizations and county agencies, so that everyone can work together to support ex-offenders. Wraparound support services are provided as much as possible.” Additionally, the brief explains that reentry specialists in the state “partner with workforce centers and use labor market information to identify the best job opportunities and employers.” 

The brief indicates that at the federal level, the administration is making efforts to increase second chances for formerly incarcerated individuals by pushing for criminal justice reform that would “reduce the harsh sentences for nonviolent offenders incarcerated under ‘mandatory minimum’ drug laws and make it easier for former inmates to transition smoothly back to their communities.” To that end, on July 31, 2015, the administration announced plans for a pilot program to make federal Pell Grants available to help inmates attend college while incarcerated. 

The brief also outlines barriers to employment for individuals with criminal records — whether or not they have been incarcerated — and gives potential policy solutions. The brief states that 70 million people in the U.S. have some type of a criminal record and that, in fact, “men with criminal records account for more than one-third of all nonworking men between the ages of 25 and 54.” While it is known that employment is crucial to staying out of the criminal justice system, “extensive research has shown that finding a job is all too difficult for many people with records," the report indicates. 

In an effort to alleviate employment barriers, a growing number of cities and states are implementing Ban the Box legislation, which forbids employers and state agencies from asking job applicants to check a box if they have been convicted of a crime. To date, the brief states, “sixteen states and over 100 cities and counties have implemented these policies and legislation, and advocates are continuing to spread fair chance hiring practices around the country.” 

The brief indicates that “advocates for ex-offenders say this step is essential to ensuring that these individuals have a chance to reintegrate into society, because many employers otherwise would reject such job candidates out of hand.” 

Similarly, the brief notes that there is growing interest in removing the question from college applications.  According to a statement in the brief by David Domenici, executive director of the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings in Washington, D.C., “Sixty-six percent of people who had a criminal conviction quit the Common Application process at the moment they hit that box.” 

The brief concludes with a discussion of the critical need to focus on programs for juvenile offenders. It states that over “70,000 juvenile offenders are held in residential placement, such as juvenile detention and correction facilities. Almost all will get out and need further education and training in order to find a job. Many will need other supports to help stabilize their lives, as well.” 

The brief notes the challenges to serve these youths in juvenile facilities since they are highly transient and have varied educational and emotional needs.  Many have learning disabilities, multiple emotional difficulties, a history of drug use, a past suicide attempt, and/or weak academic skills.

Unfortunately, as the brief indicates, “[t]here is little large-scale research on the most effective strategies for helping juvenile offenders return to school and reintegrate into their communities.” The law requires juvenile facilities to provide education, but little is known about the characteristics of a quality program — one that lowers the risk of committing crimes in the future and increases the chance of finding stable work at a living wage. Preparing juvenile offenders for the workforce is an essential part of their education, according to Executive Director Domenici. 

The full report provides more information on education and employment strategies for returning offenders, including the work in Colorado; Ban the Box legislation; and education and employment strategies for juvenile offenders.