In colleges across the country students desiring financial assistance are required to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application, as its name suggests, is used to determine who qualifies for federal student aid and how much. Pell Grants and other need-based aid are assessed according to the FAFSA results.
It’s not only federal student aid which is awarded through the FAFSA. State-based and even private-based forms of student aid are awarded based upon FAFSA results. The whole system, while diverse, is primarily based upon this single application.
Prior to 1994, incarcerated students followed the same process as non-incarcerated students when seeking student aid. Overwhelmingly, the kind of student aid to be awarded was in the form of need-based Pell Grants. It should be noted that the awarded funds at no time went to the incarcerated student, but directly to the institution providing the higher education. Also, at no time were death-row prisoners or those serving life sentences eligible to participate.
Sadly, public and political sentiment shifted against prisoners attempting to better themselves through higher education. Politicians could be heard lamenting how prisoners were receiving a free taxpayer-supported education. They, and others, could be heard making incorrect and inflammatory statements against prison education programs which tarnished the reputation of incarcerated students and prison educators alike.