National Engagement

Creating educational opportunities in prison nationwide

Expanding the model

For fifteen years, through the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison, BPI collaborated with other colleges and universities as they launched fully autonomous college-in-prison programs of their own across the country. Together these leading institutions are challenging expectations of inclusive excellence while redefining the boundaries of success for people in and returning home from prison. Moving into a new phase of programmatic support of college-in-prison, BPI now offers a summer residency program for practitioners and new leaders in the field.

Global Community of Practice

In 2022, with the support of the Open Society University Network (OSUN), and in partnership with Incarceration Nations Network (INN), BPI expanded its programmatic support internationally by providing capacity-building grants for programs outside of the United States. This one-time infusion in resources helps new projects launch and boosts the ability of existing programs to expand educational access and deepen investments in technology, books, and materials, programmatic infrastructure, research, and personnel.

map of the world with cities from global community of practice highlighted.

Distinct from BPI’s technical assistance and program building work in the United States, where BPI’s experience has served as a model for emerging practitioners for over a decade, in the global landscape our work is informed by the foundational understanding that local educators are the experts. Capacity-building grants boost local practioners’ ability to design, implement, and grow a diverse range of educational endeavors in carceral spaces based on their specific needs and contexts.

In expanding access to badly needed resources, BPI has started to build a global community of practice — rooted in sharing knowledge and experiences and coming together in community. Upon its launch, 21 international programs across 14 nations and six continents made up the initial global community of practice. This community will come together with convenings in person, and through virtual webinars, communications, and a lecture series led by the inaugural Global Research Fellow over the course of the 2022–2023 academic year.

The Summer Residency

The BPI Summer Residency launched in 2019 as a new model for supporting the growing field of college-in-prison.

The BPI Summer Residency is a professional development opportunity that provides hands-on, experiential training in BPI’s approach to college-in-prison, investing in the leadership of Consortium program staff and emerging practitioners from around the country, and internationally.

BPI staff and alumni subject matter experts from the academic, reentry and alumni affairs, national engagement and advocacy, development, and senior leadership teams led the immersive workshops. The lived experience of BPI alumni — who have joined both in annual cohorts and as workshop leaders— underscore much of the two-weeks, providing vital insight on the logistical and human-scale impact of college-in-prison. 

Cohorts of residents hail from nearly 25 states including NY, MA, CT, MD, VA, GA, IN, MI, IL, TN, MO, CA, TX, WA, UT, OR, and HI, along with South Africa, Jamaica, Vienna, England, Argentina, Trinidad, and Australia and represent community colleges, public and major research universities, Catholic colleges, small liberal arts schools, and HBCUs.

Workshops include themes such as:

Paradoxes of college-in-prison

Academics and the writing and math curriculum

Academic resources, student research and library support


Data, documents, and tracking

Computer systems and technology in prison

Working with Departments of Corrections

Cultivating college community inside prison

Reentry and alumni affairs

Practitioner well-being sustainability

The FAFSA and Pell

Fundraising and grant-writing

Faculty recruitment and orientation

Training student and peer tutors

New student orientation

Commencement planning

The Consortium

In 2009, BPI established the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison to facilitate the further establishment of college-in-prison nationwide, calling for those programs to be of the highest quality, ambition, and rigor. BPI has pursued unlikely partners, new philanthropic supporters, and critical public-sector allies to create programs that last and flourish over time.

The Consortium offered strategic support, technical assistance, and critical guidance to colleges and universities as they develop and sustain ambitious college programs. As partnerships evolve, BPI assisted with relations with corrections officials, provided initial seed funding, or helped design pilot models.

Drawing on nearly two decades of experience, BPI’s assistance has helped other colleges and universities stay true to their own identities, realize students’ full potential, and more deeply fulfill their institutional missions.

Zoe Brown presenting on FEEPS at Consortium convening in South Bend, 2018.

Zoe Brown presenting on FEPPS at Consortium convening in South Bend, 2018.

“The University of Notre Dame is both thrilled and grateful to be a part of the Bard Prison Initiative. There are few engagements…that speak more deeply to the soul of this University.”

—Louis Nanni, VP for University Relations

Academics first

The country’s leading colleges and universities can—and, now increasingly do—find outstanding students in unconventional settings, including inside correctional facilities. They and their social networks, both public and private, have a critical role to play in transforming the meaning and consequences of prison and higher education in an age of mass incarceration. Yet the Consortium is built on the premise that this promise can only be fulfilled by an approach that puts academics first, and treats the prison as only one site among many where we can and must push the frontiers of inclusive excellence. Partners in the Consortium develop high-quality college-in-prison programs that have the same rigor and high standards expected of main campuses.


  • Create college-in-prison through the leadership and independence of colleges and universities;
  • Integrate students into the intellectual, creative, and political life of the main campus;
  • Make rigorous liberal arts education and degrees the foundation of all institutional partnerships;
  • Maximize the intensity of study, making full-time college engagement the dominant feature of incarceration from the moment of matriculation to release;
  • Require identical academic standards, expectations, and student evaluations as on the main campus;
  • Do not remake curricula based on questionable assumptions about the deficits, ambitions, or potential of people in prison;
  • Challenge traditional notions that recidivism rates are the primary markers of success for college-in-prison.

Our partners

The programs that make up the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison represent eighteen colleges and universities, including Bard, and stretch across thirteen states. All partners make a fundamental commitment to liberal arts learning that aims to transform individual lives by putting academics first.


Center for Prison Education at Wesleyan University (CT)

In 2009, after years of collaboration, BPI provided a multi-year seed grant to help establish the Wesleyan Center for Prison Education at Wesleyan University. Since then, CPE has enrolled 189 students in two prisons, for men and women incarcerated in the state. In 2016 CPE partnered with Middlesex Community College, now CT State Community College at Middlesex, so that students could earn an associates degree through Second Chance Pell. In 2020 CPE began offering a Wesleyan University Bachelor of Liberal Studies degree. As of 2024, CPE has awarded 51 Middlesex Associate degrees and 15 Wesleyan Bachelor’s degrees, including one Phi Beta Kappa honoree.

CPE currently offers 9 credited courses per semester, as well as summer coursework and non-credited workshops, and an on-going guest lecture series.


CPE Website

Grinnell College Liberal Arts in Prison Program (IA)

In 2010, BPI provided a multi-year seed grant to facilitate the major expansion of the Grinnell Liberal Arts in Prison Program. To date, LAPP has enrolled 120 students at Newton Correctional Facility and allows students to earn a 30-credit First Year of College Award and up to 60 Grinnell credits. LAPP supports its college program with robust efforts from conventional undergraduates and boasts statewide influence in the field.

LAPP website

Goucher Prison Education Partnership (MD)

In 2011, after being approached by local faculty and advocates, BPI partnered with Goucher College to create the Goucher Prison Education Partnership (GPEP). GPEP offered its first for-credit college courses in 2012 to 15 students at the Maryland Correctional Institution – Jessup (MCIJ), and then the next semester expanded to the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women (MCIW). In 2016, GPEP was part of the inaugural cohort of 67 colleges nationwide invited to participate in the pilot program reinstating Pell Grant funding to students in prison. Today, GPEP offers over  30 courses to an average of 130 students annually at MCIJ and MCIW. Students earn credits toward a Goucher College bachelor’s of arts degree in American Studies, which they can either complete while incarcerated, or post-release on Goucher’s main campus in Towson MD, or at any other accredited college or university in the country. Since 2012, more than 300 students have enrolled in over 200 credit courses through GPEP. Classes are taught by faculty from Goucher and other local colleges and universities. Faculty and staff hold GPEP students to the rigorous academic standards for which Goucher is known. BPI has partnered with GPEP from its inception, most recently providing a significant capacity building grant which enabled GPEP to revamp its website, launch social media, have professional videos made, and create new printed materials and branded merchandise.

GPEP website

Moreau College Initiative (IN)

The Moreau College Initiative (MCI) was launched in 2012 as a partnership between BPI, the University of Notre Dame, and Holy Cross College at Notre Dame. Its campus inside Indiana’s Westville Correctional Facility is halfway between South Bend, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois. MCI benefits from a close and long-standing partnership with Indiana Department of Corrections. Admissions are run both Westville and other prisons across the state, and admitted then transfer to Westville. Over 70 students study full-time in a curriculum that includes theology, literature, political science, business, science and mathematics.

Both Associate and Bachelor of Art degrees are offered through Holy Cross College, while a majority of faculty and extensive in-kind support come from Notre Dame. Funding is a mix of public and private, recidivism is characteristically low, and post-release graduates have gone on to employment and further higher education across Indiana. To date, MCI students have earned 120 AA and 35 BA degrees. MCI and Holy Cross will have celebrated ten commencement ceremonies at Westville as of May 2024.

MCI website

Freedom Education Project of Puget Sound (WA)

Freedom Education Project of Puget Sound (FEPPS) joined the Consortium in 2014 and received several years of seed funding from BPI. FEPPS provides a rigorous college program to incarcerated women and gender nonconforming people in Washington and creates pathways to higher education after students are released from prison. To date, FEPPS has taught over 300 classes and graduated 72 students with an AA degree. In 2020, the program partnered with the Mellon Foundation and the University of Puget Sound to begin a Bachelor in Liberal Studies degree track. The first cohort of 10 students will be graduating in June of 2024. Many FEPPS students have been released from prison and gone on to pursue 4-year degrees at universities statewide, including FEPPS’s newest executive director who completed a degree in gender studies last year from the University of Washington. FEPPS alumni continue to engage with the program post-release through speaking engagements, professor/student collaborations, and employment opportunities.

FEPPs website

Washington University Prison Education Project (MO)

Faculty at Washington University in St. Louis approached BPI for advice on teaching in prison and together we designed and launched the Washington University Prison Education Project (PEP). PEP joined the Consortium in 2014, received several years of seed funding from BPI, and began teaching for-credit, college-level classes at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center in Pacific, MO. In 2022, PEP completed its expansion to a second campus, the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center in Vandalia, MO. PEP offers both an Associate in Arts and a Bachelor of Science degree, as well as pre-college programming, extracurricular programming that includes a lecture series and chess club, and dedicated reentry support services for alumni. 51 degrees have been awarded. 104 distinct WashU faculty have taught 137 courses since Fall 2014. Students released prior to graduation may complete degrees at University College on Washington University’s main campus, and PEP alumni are also now pursuing graduate degrees at the university. There are currently 78 current degree-seeking students across both facilities, with 28 additional students currently enrolled in pre-college programming. 41 alumni have returned home. 100% of alumni are employed full time or continuing education full time + employed part time.

PEP website

Prison Education Initiative at Bennington College (VT/NY)

In 2014, a panel of educators convened at Bennington College to explore the mutually beneficial relationships between liberal arts colleges and students in and coming out of prison.This convening led to the creation of Bennington’s Prison Education Initiative (PEI) joining the Consortium in 2016. The program is in its ninth year of offering classes at Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, New York. PEI students earn Bennington College credits that can be applied toward a Bennington associate’s degree, or can be transferred to other academic institutions or college-in-prison programs nationwide, including BPI. In addition to a wide range of credit-bearing courses in the liberal arts, PEI also offers college prep for prospective students. While PEI has designed a curriculum that accommodates those who will be released or who may transfer to another facility as soon as they are able, the program also offers an opportunity for students who are serving life or virtual life sentences to continue their studies indefinitely, developing a life of the mind and experiencing intellectual freedom even while they remain incarcerated.

PEI website

University of Vermont Liberal Arts in Prison Program (VT)

The University of Vermont joined the Consortium and launched the UVM Liberal Arts in Prison Program (LAPP) in 2017, becoming the first public university to formally join the Consortium. The first cohort began credit-bearing courses in spring 2018.

LAPP website

Yale Prison Education Initiative (CT)

The Yale Prison Education Initiative at Dwight Hall (YPEI) joined the Consortium in 2017 with the aim of building a real, rigorous college-in-prison program at Yale and to extend access to its faculty and credit-bearing coursework to incarcerated students in Connecticut. With a three-year seed grant from BPI, the program was able to successfully gain support at Yale and in 2018 admitted its first cohort of students at MacDougall Correctional Institution, the largest prison in the Northeast. In 2021, YPEI initiated a collaboration with the University of New Haven (UNH) to matriculate incarcerated students in AA and BA degrees in the liberal arts, and in 2022 launched a new program for incarcerated women at the federal women’s prison Danbury, Connecticut. Together, Yale and UNH offer a year-round college program with credits, faculty, and academic resources and advisors drawn from both institutions. The program was selected to participate in the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative and awarded its first degrees in June 2023.

YPEI website

Emerson Prison Initiative (MA)

Emerson College launched the Emerson Prison Initiative (EPI) and joined the Consortium in 2017. EPI affirms the value of a liberal arts BA pathway regardless of student circumstance. Students admitted to EPI are students of Emerson College, and take courses similar to those taught to students on Emerson’s main campus in Boston. Classes focus on arts, communication, and the liberal arts, bear official Emerson credits, and are taught by Emerson faculty as well as guest faculty from other institutions. Through a carefully constructed curriculum, EPI offers an Emerson College Bachelor of Arts in Media, Literature, and Culture, a degree that combines Emerson’s strengths in media studies, literary studies, and the liberal arts. Following an accreditation process with the New England Commission of Higher Education in 2021, EPI celebrated its first graduation in 2021. After six years at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Concord (MCI-Concord), a small men’s medium-security prison, EPI relocated to MCI-Norfolk, the largest men’s medium-security prison in the state. In 2022, EPI also began offering courses at Northeastern Correctional Center, a minimum security prison for men, in order to provide academic continuity for students as they move toward release. EPI also created the Reentry and College Outside Program (RECOUP) in 2021, which works to support students in successful transitions to life after prison through individual case management.

EPI website


Villanova University (PA)

Founded in 1972, the Villanova Graterford Program at SCI Phoenix is one of the oldest continuously running college-in-prison degree programs in the country. Villanova University currently offers Associate and Bachelor’s degrees in General Liberal Arts at SCI Phoenix and is a Second Chance Pell recipient. More than 270 students have been served over Villanova’s storied history, with 72 students currently enrolled. Since 1972, 80 students have graduated from the Program with one or more degrees. Students are offered 8 credited courses per semester along with a monthly lecture series.

Villanova website

Boston College Prison Education Program (MA)

The Boston College Prison Education Program (BCPEP) joined the Consortium in 2019. With the support of BPI and friends of the University, BCPEP runs a college-in-prison program within MCI-Shirley. The first cohort was admitted in summer 2019 and began accruing credits toward Bachelor of Arts degrees in the fall 2019 semester. The program became a Second Chance Pell site in 2020. BCPEP students begin their studies in Core Curriculum courses which, as on campus, establish a common foundation and provide a breadth of knowledge in the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. Courses are taught by Boston College faculty and the credits are granted through the University. Boston College strives to provide an education that goes beyond the classroom and the campus for all of its students. To that end, BCPEP reflects the University’s distinctive mission by embodying a commitment to the Jesuit tradition of educating the whole person and preparing students for meaningful lives in service of the common good. To date, BCPEP has admitted four different cohorts, totaling 62 students.

BCPEP website

Women’s College Partnership (IN)

Marian University joined the Consortium in 2019 with the creation of the Women’s College Partnership (WCP) at Indiana Women’s Prison (IWP). Founded in cooperation with BPI and now administered and supported by the University of Notre Dame as part of Notre Dame Programs for Education in Prison (NDPEP), WCP enrolls roughly 45 students at IWP on the west side of Indianapolis. The inaugural cohort matriculated in January 2019, and as of December 2023 around 20 students have earned A.A. or B.A. degrees from Marian. Founded by the Sisters of St. Francis, Marian is a Catholic university dedicated to teaching and learning in the Franciscan and liberal arts tradition. It is located less than seven miles from the prison.

WCP website

Augustana Prison Education Program (IL)

The Augustana Prison Education Program (APEP) joined the Consortium in 2022. Founded in 2021 by Augustana College, a selective, private liberal arts college in Rock Island, Illinois, APEP offers a BA degree with Communication Studies and American Studies majors at East Moline Correctional Center (EMCC). With ongoing technical assistance from BPI’s National Engagement team, and as members of the 2021 cohort of the BPI Summer Residency, APEP launched in August 2021 with 10 students and a full academic year of coursework. APEP leadership came back to the BPI Summer Residency in 2023. The program currently serves 31 students and is designed to grow with new cohorts of 16-20 students annually. APEP students complete nearly identical degree requirements as those earned by students on the Augustana campus; 2023-24 courses include Biology, Classics, Communication, Creative Writing, English, Environmental Studies, History, Liberal Arts, Math, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Spanish and Religion. Students enroll in semesters; four-week intensive January term courses; and summer school sessions to complete the minimum 124 credit hours required of a BA degree. APEP is a Second Chance Pell site and is funded by the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation, local community foundations, and private donors.

APEP website


Notre Dame Programs for Education in Prison (IN)

The University of Notre Dame first partnered with BPI to create the Moreau College Initiative (originally the Westville Education Initiative) in 2012 along with Holy Cross College. In 2022 BPI regranted $1 million, matched by a second donation to Notre Dame for the creation of the Notre Dame Programs for Education in Prison, (NDPEP) which became home to the Women’s College Partnership at the Indiana Women’s Prison (WCP) and to a statewide network, the Indiana Prison Liberal Arts Network (IPLAN), and a coordinated partnership for reentry and alumni services for incarcerated women and men coming home from WCP and MCI, based both in Indianapolis and in South Bend.

NDPEP website

Central Oregon Community College PEP (OR)

Central Oregon Community College (COCC) joined the Consortium in 2024 with the inception of its COCC Prison Education Program at Deer Ridge Correctional Institution (DRCI) in Madras, Oregon. The COCC DRCI program launched in spring 2024 with its inaugural cohort of students. Students at the accredited COCC DRCI campus complete courses taught in person by COCC faculty leading students towards an Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer degree. The addition of the DRCI campus to COCC campuses located in Bend, Madras, Redmond, and Prineville enables the college to serve a fuller range of community members throughout its nearly 10,000-square-mile district in Oregon. The COCC mission of empowering students through high-quality, equitable, and accessible education aligns with BPI Consortium principles. The creation of the COCC DRCI prison education program resulted from the training and impact of the BPI Summer Residency Program.


Rhodes College Liberal Arts in Prison Program (TN)

The Rhodes College Liberal Arts in Prison Program joined the Consortium in 2024, after long being a part of BPI’s larger community of practice including participation in the BPI Summer Residency in 2021 and 2024. The program began in 2016 with a weekly Great Books Reading Group at the Women’s Therapeutic Residential Center (WTRC), a state prison in Henning where about half the women incarcerated by the state of Tennessee reside. In 2019 Rhodes began offering a for-credit Certificate of Liberal Arts at WTRC, a four-semester sequence of courses patterned on Rhodes’s Search program, a signature feature of the college’s curriculum since 1945. In May 2024, the program’s fourth student cohort will graduate in a ceremony at WTRC.

Since 2019, 75 women incarcerated at WTRC have completed over 700 Rhodes College credit hours. Twenty-seven have graduated with Certificates of Liberal Arts from Rhodes, and many of these have gone on to pursue Associate Degrees through Dyersburg State Community College. To this point, 36 faculty members from ten departments have taught in the Rhodes Liberal Arts in Prison program, and over 50 students have participated as peer tutors.

Liberal Arts in Prison website

BPI in Action

Computer Science panel at Consortium convening in South Bend, 2018

In April 2018, BPI led a Convening of the Consortium, hosted by our partners at the University of Notre Dame and Holy Cross College. The 3-day event brought over 130 leaders in the field across the country, representing 30 institutions of higher education. Along with BPI staff and leadership, seven BPI alumni brought unique perspectives that enriched the conversation and supported the ongoing national conversation about connecting ambitious college education to meaningful careers for students and alumni coming home from incarceration.

Launched in 2012, the Moreau College Initiative is a partnership between BPI, the University of Notre Dame, and Holy Cross College. It operates within Westville Correctional Facility – halfway between South Bend and Chicago, IL. Admission is also run at other men’s facilities in the state, from which admittees transfer to Westville. Students study full-time in a liberal arts curriculum that includes theology, literature, history, business, biology, and mathematics.

Both associate and bachelor’s degrees are offered through Holy Cross College, while most faculty and extensive in-kind support come from Notre Dame. Funding is public and private, recidivism is low, and graduates go on to employment and further higher education across Indiana. In May 2019, the Moreau College Initiative held its 5th graduation, conferring both AA and BA degrees.

Book Covers of College in Prison by D. Karpowitz and Liberating Minds by E. Lagemann.

In 2017, two books were published by BPI leadership: Daniel Karpowitz released College-in-Prison: Reading in an Age of Mass Incarceration and Ellen Lagemann published  Liberating Minds: The Case for College in Prison.

Widely acclaimed, they were reviewed together in The New York Review of Books.

In the news

Inside Higher Ed

Inside Higher Ed logo

Unlocking the Potential of Prison Education

People in prison have often been relegated to “better than nothing” education, writes Tanya Erzen, and the inequities could become more prevalent during the pandemic.

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Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Isabel Lane, newly appointed Program Director for the BC Prison Education Program out of the Provost's Office in Waul House. Photographed for the 10/10 issue of Chronicle.

Boston College Establishes Prison Education Program

[Students] at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute (MCI) in Shirley, Massachusetts can now apply to take Boston College (BC) accredited liberal-arts courses.

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The St. Louis Dispatch

5.22.2019--University College of Washington University Graduation Ceremony held at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center (MECC) in Pacific, MO: Procession: Chancellor, Deans, Faculty & Graduates Welcome & Intro: Prof. Robert Henke "America the Beautiful" sung by Stanley L. Cook. The Maggie Garb Community Leadership Award & Tribute to Ms. Garb: Daniel D. Cobb, PEP Student. Intro of Graduate Address: Dean Jennifer R. Smith. Graduate Address: Prof. Stanley Andrisse, Ph.D., MBA, Howard University College of Medicine. Student Speaker: Kareem A. Martin. Intro of Chancellor: Dean Barbara Schaal. Conferral of Degree & Closing Remarks: Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton Music by the Clarion Brass

Washington University graduates its first class of students in prison

The graduation ceremony was like any other — tearful family members, caps and gowns, “Pomp and Circumstance” — only with added security.

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