Skip to content Skip to footer

Higher Education in Prison

Furthering education in prison can be a powerful tool for personal growth, rehabilitation, and reintegration into society. Despite the challenges men and women face inside the four walls of a prison, many prisons offer educational programs, and there are various strategies inmates can use to pursue their educational goals. Here are some steps and resources to help someone further their education while incarcerated:

1. Take Advantage of Prison Educational Programs

Many prisons offer educational programs that range from basic literacy to high school equivalency and vocational training. These programs can be an excellent starting point.

Common Prison Educational Programs:

  • Adult Basic Education (ABE): Courses to improve reading, writing, and math skills.
  • GED or High School Equivalency: Preparation for the General Educational Development (GED) test or other equivalency exams.
  • Vocational Training: Programs that teach practical skills in trades such as carpentry, plumbing, culinary arts, or automotive repair.

2. Enroll in College Courses

Some prisons partner with colleges and universities to offer higher education opportunities. These courses can be taken through correspondence or online programs, depending on the facility’s resources and policies.

Steps to Enroll in College Courses:

  • Research Available Programs: Look for colleges that offer prison education programs. Organizations like the Prison Studies Project and the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison provide directories of such programs.
  • Meet Eligibility Requirements: Ensure you meet the prerequisites for enrollment, such as having a high school diploma or GED.
  • Apply for Financial Aid: Some programs may offer scholarships or grants specifically for incarcerated students. Additionally, the Second Chance Pell Grant can provide financial assistance for eligible inmates.


3. Utilize Library Resources

Prison libraries can be valuable resources for self-directed learning. Many libraries offer a wide range of books, including textbooks, reference materials, and literature.


Maximizing Library Resources:

  • Request Specific Books: If the library does not have the books you need, request them through the prison’s interlibrary loan program.
  • Use Educational Materials: Look for educational books and materials to support your studies in subjects like math, science, history, and literature.
  • Participate in Book Clubs or Study Groups: Engaging in group discussions can enhance understanding and retention of the material.

4. Participate in Educational Programs Offered by Nonprofits

Several nonprofit organizations provide educational resources and support for inmates. These organizations can offer correspondence courses, study materials, and mentoring.

Notable Nonprofit Organizations:

  • Prison Education Project (PEP): Offers educational resources and support to inmates.
  • Prison University Project (PUP): Provides higher education opportunities to inmates at San Quentin State Prison.
  • Books to Prisoners: Sends free books to inmates upon request.

5. Leverage Online Courses and Open Educational Resources (OER)

Depending on the prison’s policies and available technology, inmates may have access to online courses and OER. These resources can provide a wide range of educational opportunities.

Online and OER Platforms:

  • Khan Academy: Offers free courses in various subjects, from basic math to college-level science.
  • Coursera and edX: Provide free and paid courses from top universities. Some prisons have partnered with these platforms to offer courses to inmates.
  • OpenStax: Offers free, peer-reviewed, openly licensed textbooks.

6. Earn Certifications

Many prisons offer opportunities to earn certifications in various trades and skills. These certifications can enhance employability after release.


Common Certifications:

  • Trade Certifications: Welding, HVAC, electrical, plumbing, etc.
  • Health and Safety Certifications: OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) training, food safety, etc.
  • Computer and IT Certifications: Basic computer skills, Microsoft Office, coding, etc.


getting legal aid in prison

7. Seek Mentorship and Tutoring

Mentorship and tutoring can provide personalized support and encouragement. Many prisons have volunteer programs where educators and mentors work with inmates to help them achieve their educational goals.

Finding a Mentor or Tutor:

  • Ask the Education Department: Inquire about available mentorship and tutoring programs.
  • Connect with Nonprofits: Organizations like the Petey Greene Program offer tutoring and mentorship to incarcerated individuals.


Pursuing education in prison can be challenging but immensely rewarding. By taking advantage of available resources, enrolling in educational programs, and seeking support from nonprofits and mentors, inmates can make significant strides in their education. These efforts not only contribute to personal development but also enhance prospects for successful reintegration into society after release.