Mission and History

The Villanova Program at State Correctional Institution – Phoenix (SCI Phoenix) is one of the oldest continuously running degree-granting prison education programs in the US, and the University has emerged as a national leader in prison education as a result of its long-standing partnership with SCI Phoenix. Established in 1972 by former Villanova professor James McKenna, PhD, the program offers incarcerated people the opportunity to obtain a college degree. The program originally operated in State Correctional Institution – Graterford, which was closed in 2018 and replaced by SCI Phoenix—a 3,830-bed maximum security prison located in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania—where the program currently operates. The program is free to all students, made possible by Villanova University and the generosity of donors.

Villanova University’s long-term support of the program is rooted in its Augustinian Catholic values—truth, unity and love—and belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every individual. The program is a living embodiment of Villanova’s mission to serve others and strengthen its connection to the community.


Pell Grants and Funding

Villanova has emerged as a national leader in prison education as a result of our long-standing partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and SCI Graterford/Phoenix. This program was established as part of a broader wave of prison education programs that many private universities established during the 1970s. Under Title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965, all incarcerated individuals were eligible to receive Pell Grants to pay for college education while incarcerated. They remained eligible to receive Pell funding until the passage of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which prohibited any individuals incarcerated in federal and state penal institutions from receiving Pell Grants. Prior to 1994, an estimated 772 programs were operating in 1,287 correctional facilities across the United States; by 1997, it is estimated that only eight programs remained. Villanova was one of these remaining programs and the only one in Pennsylvania.

President Barack Obama announced the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program in July 2015 as an Experimental Sites Initiative (ESI), which granted Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals participating in higher education programs operated by a select group of colleges and universities. While Villanova is proud to be one of the universities participating in the Second Chance program, it is especially proud that its own program has continued uninterrupted since 1972, despite the loss of Pell funding for much of that time.

Kate Meloney, Director, SCI Phoenix Prison Program

According to a 2013 study from the RAND Corporation, individuals who participated in prison education were


less likely to reoffend


more likely to secure employment


The Villanova Program at SCI Phoenix is free to all students, thanks to the University and the program's generous donors. The University seeks new partners who believe in access to education and its transformative power, regardless of individual’s circumstances.