Reimagining the place of higher education.

20th Commencement
Celebrating 200+ degrees in six graduations back in person with Congressman Bobby Rush.

Watch College Behind Bars

Stream on Amazon Prime and PBS.

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College Behind Bars, an Emmy-nominated, four-part documentary about the transformative power of education. College Behind Bars is an intimate look at the lives and experiences of a dozen BPI students and their families that confronts and challenges conventional wisdom about the purpose of both education and incarceration.

The BPI Summer Residency

Our immersive two-week sequence of workshops for emerging leaders and practitioners in the field of college-in-prison returned to Bard’s Annandale campus for its 4th year.


Visit Schedule! 


What is college for?

The Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) works to redefine the availability, affordability, and expectations typically associated with higher education in America.

Since 2001, BPI has created groundbreaking opportunities for college within America’s prison systems. These programs transform the negative impacts of criminal punishment and create radical inroads of access and opportunity to higher learning.

Today, BPI enrolls over 300 incarcerated students full-time in programs that culminate in degrees from Bard College; it offers extensive support for its alumni in and around New York City; and, it has developed the BPI Summer Residency, an intensive, experiential, and hands-on series of workshops on the nuts and bolts of college-in-prison for new and emerging practitioners led by BPI staff and alumni. The Residency leads to an ongoing community of practice that builds on over a decade of cultivating a nationwide network of leading universities and colleges in the field, through the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison. BPI’s newest initiative, the Bard Microcollege, expands yet further the scope and impact of this work, delivering high-quality liberal arts education to communities outside of prison through partnerships with community-based institutions.

Who are BPI students?

The BPI student body mirrors that of the prison system at large: students come from communities with the fewest quality educational opportunities that are most impacted by crises of hyper-policing and mass incarceration. 80% are BIPOC. The majority were first arrested as minors. Few completed high school; most earned their GED in prison. Once enrolled, BPI students engage with the college full-time, embarking on a course of study that is ambitious and matches the breadth and intensity of any undergraduate learning experience.

After returning home, BPI alumni become independent taxpaying citizens. They work in business, the arts, and media; they attend graduate school; they have careers in human services. Virtually none return to prison. They contribute to their communities in all the ways one might expect of any college graduate.

By The Numbers

Courses offered in prison each year
Bard degrees earned
Colleges or universities partnering in the Consortium

Public Health at BPI

From in-prison classrooms to graduate schools and careers, students and alumni are rising to meet the urgent demand for trained professionals and visionary leaders in public health.

It Starts in the Classroom

BPI alumni in public health, one with a mask, one walking in a hallway.

See how BPI’s Public Health Program prepares students and alumni for careers in public health.

Public Health at BPI 

Public Health Fellows 2021

The fifth annual BPI Public Health Fellowship Symposium featured the 2021 Public Health Fellows’ virtual presentations of their projects captured in the video above and the conversations linked below.

Watch Symposium 

Current Topics We're Following:

Turn on the TAP | Restoring Tuition Assistance Program eligibility in NY. Graduating female BPI students clapping.

BPI was proud to partner with College and Community Fellowship’s #TurnOnTheTapNY campaign to restore access to New York’s state-level need-based student grants, the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) for incarcerated students.

This movement took on renewed urgency following Congress’s reinstatement of Pell Grant access to incarcerated students in 2020. After the federal Pell ban in 1994, New York implemented a ban on TAP eligibility in 1995. As a result, the number of college-in-prison programs in New York fell from over 70 to 4. The bipartisan restoration of Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated students is a clear political endorsement of the value of college-in-prison, signaling to New York that it is past time to also restore TAP.

To learn more about the restoration of TAP, read Jessica Neptune’s – the Director of National Engagement – blog post here & Executive Director, Max Kenner’s, letter to our supporters here

BPI student speaking in class, gesturing with his pen, while other students write notes in the background.

In 1994, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act made people in prison ineligible for Pell Grants. After the ‘94 Crime Bill, state lawmakers followed the federal lead and rescinded state-level tuition assistance programs. College-in-prison, which had been common in prisons across the country, collapsed.

BPI was founded in 1999, in the wake of the decimation of college-in-prison. For 26 years, BPI joined other advocates in championing the return of Pell eligibility for incarcerated students. In 2016, BPI was proud to join the first cohort of sites receiving experimental eligibility through Second Chance Pell. In December 2020 Congress finally restored Pell Grant eligibility as part of the omnibus spending and COVID relief bill. Following the development of regulations issued by the US Department of Education, incarcerated students who are enrolled in approved programs are expected to be eligible for Pell in the 2023-2024 academic year. In August 2022, BPI joined colleagues across the field in issuing public comments in response to the Department of Education’s proposed regulatory language. Read BPI’s open letter here.

As public funding of college-in-prison returns to the field the question shifts from Will there be college-in-prison? to What will the field of college-in-prison look like?  With so much at stake, BPI is doubling down on our commitments to national engagement in policy and practice including The BPI Summer Residency for emerging programs and practitioners.

Learn more about Pell restoration on our blog.

Female BPI student writes in her notebook in class.

This July we saw a major legislative victory in New York, spearheaded by BPI alumni. In early 2020 BPI began working with lawmakers to change Merit Board eligibility rules so that all incarcerated students can be eligible for early release based on earning college credits. In spring 2021 the NYS legislature passed the bill, and it was signed into law in July 2021.

Learn more about this important amendment to the Merit Board rules, and its disproportionate impact on incarcerated women, on our blog.

NY Daily News logo
NY Daily News

Helping prisoners go to college helps New York

Last week, the New York State budget included a major victory for educational equity, ending a 26-year-old ban on access to need-based Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) grants for incarcerated students. Having myself attended college while incarcerated, I can attest to the importance of the… Read More 



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 18, 2022 CONTACT: Eric Koch | TURN ON THE TAP NY PRAISES GOVERNOR HOCHUL FOR INCLUDING TUITION ASSISTANCE FOR INCARCERATED NEW YORKERS IN BUDGET Siena Poll Today Showed Huge, Bipartisan Majorities For Programs That Lower Barriers to Incarcerated New Yorkers Re-Entering Society ALBANY,… Read More 

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The Appeal

BPI and College Behind Bars in The Appeal

The Appeal featured several segments about BPI in two Justice in America podcast episodes, as well as an op-ed. Check out more details below: 4/22/2019 Justice in America Episode 29: Schools in Prison Josie Duffy Rice and co-host Derecka Purnell are joined by Dyjuan Tatro '18 and… Read More 

Factually! podcast artwork.
Factually! with Adam Conover #46

College Behind Bars with Max Kenner and Sebastian Yoon

The Bard Prison Initiative is a revolutionary program that provides a rigorous college education to men and women in prison. In one of our most power episodes ever, BPI’s founder Max Kenner and recent graduate Sebastian Yoon join Adam this week to discuss how… Read More 

Rolling Stone logo
Rolling Stone

Incarcerated People Can Do More than Beat Harvard in a Debate

“College Behind Bars,” a new PBS documentary executive-produced by Ken Burns, shines a light on a program that every major university in America should be sponsoring By Jamil Smith When you watch College Behind Bars, which began last night on PBS and concludes tonight, or any… Read More 

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