IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — The under secretary for the U.S. Department of Education visited a state prison in Ionia Tuesday for a tour and to learn about a partnership with Calvin University.

In May, 45 prisoners at the Richard A. Handlon Correction Facility celebrated earning bachelor’s degrees through the Calvin Prison Initiative. James Kvaal, the under secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, said the program should serve as a model for other prisons.

“We know the value of these programs in helping people find jobs,” Kvaal said. “It really has a strong sense of mission and it really has touched people’s lives and changed their lives and I think that is an incredible opportunity.”

The under secretary said the visit provided an opportunity to learn how the program operates.

“We had the honor of meeting with students who talked about how these programs helped them become the man that they were meant to be. It helped them walk into purpose,” Kvaal said.

Bipartisan legislation that was passed in Congress will restore Pell Grant eligibility to prisoners starting next summer.

“One of the things that having permanent Pell Grant funding will do is ensure that there’s a source of financial support for programs like this so that you can go to staff, you can go to incarcerated individuals and say, ‘We’re here to stay,’” Kvaal said.

Calvin says the program helps reduce recidivism. It says the 14 graduates who have been released on parole have stayed out of prison.

“With the visit here today, we hope that this will be an opportunity to not only expand this in Michigan but expand this kind of program across the United States,” Wiebe Boer, the president of Calvin University, said.