Some prisoners will soon be able to get federal money to get a college education.

Under an experimental program, a limited number of inmates could begin receiving Pell grants by 2016, reported The Washington Post’s Nick Anderson.

The Second Chance Pell Pilot Program is designed to “help prisoners work toward an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree while incarcerated,” Anderson wrote this week.

My husband and I volunteer teaching personal finance to prisoners in correctional facilities in Maryland. So I have an up-close perspective of how worthwhile this education program can be. And as the Obama administration pointed out, research shows that getting an education helps reduce recidivism.

I know some people will object to spending federal funds on inmates. But if we don’t find a way to help improve their chances to find employment, the more likely they may turn back to crime.

Note these statistics from an editorial in the Daily Hampshire Gazette: “According to a 2013 Rand study, incarcerated people who take part in prison education programs are 43 percent less likely to land back behind bars within three years than inmates who do not. And for every dollar invested in the prison classroom, Rand estimates that prisons save four or five dollars in re-incarceration costs.

“At a time when the United States is looking for ways to reduce its high incarceration rates and reduce the vast sums of money spent to lock people away, often for nonviolent crimes, Pell grants for prisoners seems a promising idea,” the editorial board wrote. “Most inmates eventually return to society. And when they do, the head-start provided by college education could make the difference between a productive life and one spent in an endless cycle of crime for which we all pay the price.”

That deserves two “Amens.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement: “America is a nation of second chances. Giving people who have made mistakes in their lives a chance to get back on track and become contributing members of society is fundamental to who we are — it can also be a cost-saver for taxpayers.”

Color of Money Question of the Week

What do you think of the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program? Send your comments to Please include your full name and city. You can put “Second Chance” in the subject line.

Live chat canceled

I’m away, so no chat this week. But I’m back Aug. 13.

If you missed last week’s discussion here’s the transcript. It was a good conversation. We talked about retirement, savings and, of course, debt.

CEO pay comparison

It’s about time.

Public companies will soon have to report how much more their chief executives earn compared with their employees.

The rule comes from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“The commission backed a long-delayed rule demanding that companies publicly share their ‘pay ratio,’ a potentially embarrassing corporate revealing that will highlight the country’s growing workplace pay gap,” reported The Post’s Drew Harwell.

As Harwell reported, companies will have to disclose how the chief executive’s pay compares with the median pay of workers. “At America’s biggest companies, the top boss makes more than $300 for every $1 its typical worker earns, up from a $20-to-$1 split in 1965, Economic Policy Institute data show,” he wrote.

Not that this will change the disparity, but at least we get to see the obscenity of the wage gap.

How do you go broke on $100 million?

Last week, I wrote about Basketball star Vin Baker, who was profiled recently in the Providence Journal. Baker was the eighth player picked in the 1993 draft and reportedly earned more than $100 million in his career.

But Baker, who battled alcoholism, has blown through that money and offers this cautionary tale from his experience: “When you make choices and decisions and think that it will never end, and then you get into spending and addiction and more spending, it’s a definite formula for losing. If you don’t have perspective in your personal life and you don’t understand what this $1 million or $15 million means, it will go.”

So for last week’s Color of Money Question I asked:

How do you avoid living above your means?

Tamika K. White of Syracuse, N.Y., said she thought she was living within her means. But realized she hadn’t been. “For me, that was a house and car payment that I could pay easily or ‘hustle’ up if I needed to,” she wrote. “Of course, when I add in the credit card debt that I have accumulated three times in a vicious cycle of making debt, applying for a debt consolidation loan, paying off the loan and then getting more credit card debt than the previous time, I clearly don’t live within my means.”

Andrea Johnson of Burke, Va., wrote: “We have money taken directly out of our paychecks and checking account for investments. We’ve bought a house and sent our children to college, so our savings will be used in retirement. We are careful shoppers and buy store brands when we find them equal to the regular brands. We eat out on average once a week. We allow a good amount for vacationing and travel but also carefully weigh alternate vacations along with cost of travel. We buy clothes of good quality but don’t pay extra for name. Not particularly exciting, but it has kept us on the road to living within our means.”

I’ll end with this quote a reader sent in from Wilkins Micawber, a fictional character in the Charles Dickens novel “David Copperfield”: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to