Villanova Program at SCI Phoenix Receives Mellon Foundation Grant to Expand Program, Develop Statewide Consortium

Villanova, Pa. (June 6, 2023) – The Villanova University Program at State Correctional Institution Phoenix (SCI Phoenix) has received a $712,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to support expansion of the program— allowing more students to access a Villanova liberal arts education—and to develop a statewide consortium on higher education prison programs. The Villanova Program at SCI Phoenix is one of the oldest, continuously running degree-granting prison education programs in the US.

“Villanova’s unwavering support of the Program at SCI Phoenix for 50 years aligns with the University’s Augustinian Catholic mission to ‘affirm the intrinsic good of learning, contemplation and the search for truth’,” says Adele Lindenmeyr, PhD, William and Julia Moulden Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “The program is founded on our belief in the inherent dignity of every individual, and our students at SCI Phoenix become members of the greater Villanova community. We are committed to offering them a liberal arts education that meets the highest academic standards and, in the words of Villanova’s mission, develops critical thinking, life-long learning and moral reflection.”

Villanova University is a national leader in prison education due to its continuous, long-standing partnership with SCI Phoenix, and previously SCI Graterford. Since its launch in 1972, Villanova’s prison education program has graduated 98 alumni with Bachelor of Liberal Arts degrees to date. Despite federal policy challenges in the 1990s, which forced most prison education programs to close nationally, Villanova’s program persisted. In the past two decades, Villanova has been the only degree-granting program for incarcerated individuals in Pennsylvania.

“With the Mellon Foundation’s support, we plan to double enrollment in the Phoenix program because we know the impact it has on our students,” says Kate Meloney, director of the Villanova Program at SCI Phoenix and principal investigator on the grant. “Not only is the recidivism rate zero for our alumni, but more than that, we have seen the transformative impact this program has on their lives. Whether they remain incarcerated or are released, our students develop community-building skills and become engaged citizens. Those that do re-enter society obtain jobs and use their education to positively impact their communities.”

The support from the Mellon Foundation serves as a catalyst for three primary initiatives:

  • Establish a Pennsylvania consortium on higher education prison education programs to increase statewide collaboration and expand statewide capacity.
  • Offer college preparatory education to individuals who are incarcerated in Pennsylvania through a new partnership with the Petey Greene Program—providing an on-ramp to higher education for individuals who have their GED or high school diploma but are not yet academically prepared for college-level courses.
  • Double enrollment in the Villanova Program at SCI Phoenix by admitting transfer students from other prison education programs and through the new partnership with the Petey Greene Program.

Due to recent changes in federal policy, incarcerated students have become eligible for Pell grants, which has sparked renewed interest nationwide in establishing more higher education prison programs. The support from the Mellon Foundation will be transformational for Pennsylvania’s prison education programs with Villanova University at the helm.

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenging and changing world. With more than 40 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges—the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Ranked among the nation’s top universities, Villanova supports its students’ intellectual growth and prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit