Mellon Foundation provides support for Auburn University’s prison education program

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Auburn University recently received a $900,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in support of the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project, or APAEP, at Auburn University.

The new Mellon grant represents the largest philanthropic investment APAEP has received to date. It will enable Auburn to have a major impact on prison education in Alabama by supporting a program that offers students at Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore County the opportunity to pursue a bachelor's degree from Auburn University.

"We are living in an historic moment when the social, economic, and political consequences of mass incarceration have become part of the national conversation," said Eugene Tobin, a senior program officer at the Mellon Foundation. "We are proud to support the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project's efforts to improve the lives of underserved individuals, their families, and the communities to which they will return upon release. Such public-private partnerships represent values that should be at the heart of a democratic society."

APAEP is dedicated to bringing educational opportunities to those in prison in Alabama through a partnership with the Alabama Department of Corrections. Faculty and staff currently teach 238 students, offering more than 17 classes including semester-long courses in arts, humanities, science, technology, engineering and math in eight correctional facilities across the state.

APAEP recently added a component enabling students who successfully complete a rigorous application process to pursue degree coursework in business or human development and family studies, earning credits toward a bachelor's degree from Auburn.

"As the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project has grown and the degree program emerged through the U.S. Department of Education's Experimental Sites Second Chance Pell research program, Auburn and APAEP are reaching further and more substantially into the educationally under-resourced communities impacted by incarceration," said Kyes Stevens, APAEP director and founder. "This grant will help us advance our goals based on the university's land-grant mission of increasing access to higher education."

Since 2015, the Foundation has awarded $6.905 million in grants that support prison education and reentry, as well as curricular initiatives focused on incarceration. Mellon's gift in support of APAEP is the second grant Auburn University has received from the Mellon Foundation; the first was awarded in 1997 in the amount of $54,000 to support dissertation seminars for PhD candidates in literature and history.

"We are thrilled to receive this generous gift from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation," said Jane DiFolco Parker, vice president for development and president of the Auburn University Foundation. "Philanthropic support from prestigious organizations like the Mellon Foundation is crucial to the continuation of our pioneering work in prison education and providing nontraditional students access to the exceptional education Auburn provides."

APAEP began as an arts and humanities program, offering creative and intellectual opportunities to individuals in Alabama's prisons. The program has grown significantly in scope since its inception in 2002, and today, Auburn University is one of the few public land-grant institutions chosen to participate in the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program, a federal financial aid program providing roughly a third of the tuition for students in prison.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.