The Prisoner Reentry Institute (PRI) is soliciting proposals from prospective evaluation vendors to conduct a process and outcome evaluation of its College Initiative (CI) program. Findings will enable CI staff to better serve its students, gain a clearer understanding of students’ outcomes by student subgroups, and share valuable lessons learned about our program with other direct service, higher-education reentry organizations.
Located at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, PRI’s mission is to better understand what it takes for people to live successfully in their communities after involvement with the criminal justice system. A critical component of PRI’s work is creating access to higher education for people who have been involved in the criminal justice system, including incarceration. This commitment is pursued through the CI program.
Numerous reentry programs and services are available to assist individuals as they return home to their communities, but these programs tend to address the more pressing needs of housing, employment, and health and health care. Fewer programs exist to serve the longer-term higher education needs of individuals, but evidence is pointing to post-secondary education services as a viable reentry strategy.,, We believe the time is ripe to evaluate the CI program, as New York and other jurisdictions are seeking to improve access to college for people who have been traditionally underrepresented in higher education.
Program Overview: College Initiative
PRI’s College Initiative (CI) program is designed to create pathways to college and beyond by providing a safe, mutually-supporting community. The CI staff deliver a suite of community-based services assisting people who have been involved in the criminal justice system to enroll in, and graduate from, college. People are eligible to participate in the CI program if they: 1) have had involvement in the criminal justice system, 2) have a high school diploma or equivalency, and 3) plan to attend college in the New York City metropolitan area.
Prospective students travel along different pathways before joining the CI program. For example:
- Some CI students took college courses while they were incarcerated, either in PRI’s other direct-service higher-education program (Prison-to-College Pipeline) or another college program inside New York State correctional facilities, and are looking to resume their college studies in the community.
- Some CI students were referred to the CI program from other community-based organizations, particularly reentry organizations that support people who are returning to their communities.
- Some CI students find their way to the CI program through word of mouth from other CI students.
CI’s services operate in two major phases: 1) college pre-enrollment and 2) college enrollment and retention.
During the college pre-enrollment phase, CI staff:
- Organize outreach sessions in correctional facilities and the community to raise awareness about college and dispel myths about attending college and obtaining financial aid among people who have a history of criminal justice involvement;
- Conduct one-on-one consultation sessions with prospective students to discuss academic and career goals;
- Lead group orientation sessions to provide information about local colleges, types of academic degrees, and financial aid options; and
- Assign a CI academic counselor to each prospective student to prepare individual enrollment plans, such as submitting college applications and financial aid forms; providing referrals for academic and social service needs (housing, employment); assembling needed documentation; and addressing barriers to enrollment (diploma, GEDs, transcripts, immunization records, meeting selective service requirements, etc.).
After students are accepted into college, CI staff maintain their relationship with them during the enrollment and retention phase by:
- Providing ongoing one-on-one check-ins with students, as needed, during each semester, and providing academic referrals (e.g., campus-based programs such as CUNY’s Black Male Initiative or Accelerated Study in Associate Programs) and non-academic referrals, as needed (e.g., housing, health, employment);
- Offering peer mentoring services for first-year students who are interested in being paired with senior CI college students, where mentor-mentee pairings meet at least four times per semester, especially during the mentee’s critical academic milestones (such as beginning of semester, mid-terms, finals, and end of semester) for the mentee’s first year; and
- Convening skills-based workshops (such as resume writing, applying to graduate school) and hosting community networking events where CI students are able to meet other CI students and build their social and professional networks.
The CI program began in 2002 and has been housed within a handful of local agencies over the years, including The Fortune Society. In 2015, CI became a program within PRI’s Educational Initiatives. To learn more about the CI program, including its history, please visit PRI’s website (www.johnjaypri.org).
While PRI is located at John Jay College, our CI program serves students interested in enrolling in any college in New York City. To date, CI has helped more than 1,400 New Yorkers enroll in college, and more than 300 have graduated. CI is currently serving over 300 students across 20 different CUNY campuses, and at a number of SUNY and private colleges. We feel our program, compared with other college access programs, is unique for a number of reasons, and not solely because we work with students who were formerly incarcerated. The CI program is designed to allow students to determine their own academic goals, and we do not require students to pursue one type of degree, such as a Bachelor’s degree. Most CI students pursue an Associate’s degree, yet other students are working towards either a Bachelor’s or advanced degree. More than one-quarter of CI students have earned multiple degrees, such as an Associate’s degree and then a Bachelor’s degree. As noted earlier, some CI students join the CI program having already accumulated college credits (either while they were incarcerated or prior to their incarceration/criminal justice involvement). Therefore, some of our CI students may need only a couple of semesters (or a couple of credits) to earn their degree. Given these factors, there is no average length of time to graduation among our students.
The CI program is in the midst of tremendous growth in a number of ways, as we recently expanded the number of staff and have ramped up our outreach activities. Additionally, we recently launched a new College Readiness program to work with people who are incarcerated at a local New York City jail. During their incarceration, College Readiness students learn about college and the college application process, participate in a 10-session course that prepares them to take the reading and writing portion of the CUNY Assessment Test, which is required for admission to any CUNY college. At the end of this course, students take the CUNY Assessment Test (while still incarcerated). As they are preparing to leave jail and return to their community, CI staff meet with them and invite them to reach out to the CI program when they are ready to apply to college. At that point, the College Readiness students will receive all of the same support services as any other CI student.
CI staff collect a variety of qualitative and quantitative data, including:
- Race and ethnicity
- High School Diploma or High School Equivalency
- Employment status
- Housing status/Living situation
- Parental status/Primary caretaker
- Case Management
- Qualitative information about contact with prospective students/current students, including referral needs
- Peer Mentoring
- Mentor-mentee matches
- Semester enrollment
- Campus location
- CUNY’s Office of Institutional Research (OIR):
- Term(s) enrolled
- Campus where enrolled
- GPA/cumulative GPA
- Credits/cumulative credits
- Graduation date
- Graduation degree (Associate, Bachelor, Master, Professional, etc.)
Please note that CI staff are able to obtain CUNY’s OIR data for CI students only. Data, however, are at least 2 semesters behind the calendar.
PRI seeks a vendor to design and conduct a mixed-methods evaluation of the College Initiative (CI) program, focusing on its implementation (process) and benefits (outcomes).
We are interested in assessing the quality of our: (1) programmatic implementation, particularly how, how often, and to whom our services are being delivered; and (2) relationships with New York State and New York City departments of correction, other college programs taking place inside correctional facilities across the state, CUNY’s Central office, CUNY colleges, and external organizations (e.g., Fortune Society, Osborne Association) to serve our students. While not exhaustive, the following list provides examples of the types of questions we are interested in having a process evaluation answer. By answering these questions, we will have a better understanding of our program’s strengths and areas for improvement.
- To what extent is the CI program implemented as planned?
- Where are the successes and challenges in our program delivery model?
- Are we properly staffed to complete programmatic activities and meet prospective student (pre-enrollment phase) and student (enrollment and retention phase) demands?
- Where, and why, do we experience prospective student attrition in the pre-enrollment phase and student attrition in the enrollment and retention phase?
- What are the primary barriers prospective students experience in continuing with the college application process and what are the primary barriers currently-enrolled students experience in remaining enrolled?
- How do prospective CI students, currently-enrolled CI students, and CI alumni describe their experiences with the CI program? What do/did they like about the program and what, if any, changes would they suggest? To what degree do/did they feel prepared to enroll in college?
- Because some individuals come to the CI program having already earned college credits, are their experiences in the CI program different from those who come to the CI program without any college credits? If so, how and why?
- To what degree are CI staff creating systems-level change by leveraging partnerships with higher education institutions (i.e., CUNY Central Office and CUNY and SUNY colleges), reentry organizations (i.e., Fortune Society, Osborne Association), and correctional partners throughout New York City (Department of Corrections) and New York State (Department of Corrections and Community Supervision)?
Please note that we have recently begun systematically tracking student attrition. As expected, there are challenges in reaching some of those students with whom we have lost contact, especially those who are in the early stages of the application process. Evaluation applicants will need to develop a follow-up strategy for reaching out to a sample of CI students we have lost through attrition.
In addition to assessing the quality of our programmatic implementation, we are also interested in measuring outcomes among CI students. We are interested in prospective vendor’s suggestions for including a comparison group, if appropriate, to assess program outcomes. While not exhaustive, the following list provides examples of the types of programmatic outcomes we are interested in having assessed:
- What percentage of CI students persist from one semester to the next semester?
- What percentage of incoming students persist from their first to second semester?
- What percentage of continuing students persist from semester to semester?
- What percentage of CI students drop out of college and why?
- If CI students drop out, are they more likely to drop out early in their schooling or later in their schooling?
- If CI students drop out, are they more likely to drop out in an Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or advanced degree program?
- Are there differences in academic outcomes (GPA, semester persistence, and time to graduation) when comparing incoming CI students who participate in the peer mentoring program compared with those incoming CI students who do not participate in the peer mentoring program?
- What types of opportunities do CI graduates explore post-graduation?
- What percentage of CI graduates go on to earn another degree?
- What percentage of CI graduates are employed? What percentage are employed within their chosen field? What is the median length of time to find employment in their chosen field after graduation? What percentage are employed full-time and part-time?
- Have CI graduates experienced barriers after graduation in obtaining full-time employment? If so, what are those barriers?
Please note that we do not collect information about CI students after graduation. Evaluation applicants will need to develop a follow-up strategy for reaching out to a sample of CI college graduates to gather data to answer these questions.
In addition to examining these academic and post-academic outcomes, we are interested in understanding whether there is variation among CI student subgroups, such as:
- Socio-demographic Characteristics:
- Are there differences in CI student academic outcomes by age, employment status, homelessness, and family responsibilities?
- Educational Background:
- Are there differences in CI student academic outcomes depending on whether they have a high school diploma (HSD) or high school equivalency (HSE)?
- Are there differences in CI student academic outcomes depending on whether they were enrolled in a college program while incarcerated or did not take any college classes while incarcerated?
- Criminal Justice Status:
- Are there differences in CI student academic outcomes depending on their prior criminal justice history?
Note: We anticipate a variety of methodological approaches will be necessary to answer these questions during the evaluation, and we are interested in prospective vendors’ proposed approach(es) to answer these questions. Additionally, prospective vendors are permitted to subcontract with another research/evaluation vendor when submitting a proposal. This information should be clearly noted in the proposal, including which organization’s staff is completing which task. We will work with the selected vendor in accessing our administrative data. We do not, however, collect data needed to answer post-graduation employment, and the evaluation vendor will be responsible for collecting and analyzing such additional data. The cost of any additional data collection, and participant incentives, should be incorporated into the budget and explained in the budget narrative.
Timing and Pricing
We anticipate this evaluation will take approximately 24 months to complete, which includes planning, and will not exceed $350,000.
The selected evaluation vendor will be expected to provide the following services and deliverables:
- Review and assess PRI administrative data.
- Finalize evaluation plan with PRI/CI staff.
- Develop research study consent forms, instruments, and protocols for data collection.
- Obtain IRB approval or waiver.
- Conduct literature review of existing higher-education programs working with people who have a criminal justice history.
- Collect, where necessary, and analyze qualitative and quantitative program-level and student-level data.
- Review and provide recommendations, if necessary, to logic model.
- Prepare a draft report for preliminary review and questions.
- Prepare a final report for public dissemination synthesizing findings, highlighting program implementation strengths and challenges and programmatic outcomes, and providing recommendations for program enhancements.
Note: PRI expects an ongoing, open dialogue with the selected evaluation vendor, from the early stages of finalizing the evaluation plan and collecting data to the later stages of analyzing the data and interpreting the findings. Dialogue may be in the form of conference calls and/or in-person meetings to share updates and preliminary research findings, thereby creating a frequent feedback loop among the evaluator, PRI and CI staff, CI students/alumni, and a small advisory committee, including other researchers.
Prospective applicants are invited to submit a proposal for this request. The process is as follows:
- Please complete the required registration page to inform us of your interest in applying for this opportunity. Your registration will ensure you receive updates throughout the submission process and answers to all questions posed about this request.
- Clarifying questions can be submitted here by 5:00 p.m. (Eastern) on Wednesday, March 21, 2018. Responses will be compiled and emailed to everyone who registered on our website by Wednesday, March 28, 2018.
- Submissions are due on Monday, April 30, 2018 and should be uploaded here.
- Using single-spaced, 12-point font in Calibri, proposal submissions should include the following:
- Cover Letter. Please include a main contact person, proposed total budget, proposed length of time to complete the evaluation tasks, and a brief summary of the proposed evaluation approach. (The cover letter should be uploaded separately and should not exceed 1 page.)
- Evaluation Narrative. Please include a detailed description of the proposed evaluation methodology to conduct both a process and outcome evaluation. (The evaluation narrative should be uploaded separately and should not exceed 5 pages.)
- Please submit the following information an appendix. You can also upload any tables or graphs as appendices. There are no page limits for the following information for the appendix.
- Organizational Qualifications and Relevant Experience. Please state your organization’s qualifications, including your staffing plan; and relevant experience, including examples of previous work. If possible, please highlight your experience evaluating organizations that are similar in the type of services we provide (i.e., direct services, case management, and/or higher education) and/or similar types of populations we serve.
- Reference List. Please provide a list of three previous clients, including contact name, title, organization, and email address.
- Project Timeline. Please provide a timeline to complete key tasks.
- Budget and Budget Narrative. Please provide a detailed budget and budget narrative that clearly describes which key staff will carry out the evaluation tasks.
- Key Staff. Please provide resumes of key staff.
Note: PRI reserves the right to modify the scope of work, services, and/or deliverables called for under this request for proposals. In the event a selected applicant is unable to fulfill the requirements of the contract awarded pursuant to this RFP, we reserve the right to enter into contract negotiations at a later date with other providers who are available to fulfill the services specified in this RFP. We also reserve the right to award contracts on the basis of initial proposals received, without discussions; therefore, prospective evaluation vendor’s initial proposal should contain its best technical and price terms. PRI will be responsible for making all final funding decisions.
Vendor Selection Process
We will form a review committee and they will use the following criteria to select a vendor:
- Quality of evaluation plan: 50 points
- Qualifications and relevant experience: 40 points
- Budget and budget narrative: 10 points
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 Davis LM, R Bozick, J Steele, J Saunders, and J Miles. (2013). Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education: A Meta-Analysis of Programs That Provide Education to Incarcerated Adults. Washington, DC: RAND Corporation.
 Blackburn FS. (1981). “The Relationship Between Recidivism and Participation in a Community College Associate of Arts Degree Program for Incarcerated Offenders.” Journal of Correctional Education 32(3): 24-25.