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.
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
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.
“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
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.
The programs that make up the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison represent fifteen colleges and universities and stretch across ten states. All partners make a fundamental commitment to liberal arts learning that aims to transform individual lives by putting academics first.
In 2009, after years of collaboration, BPI provided a multi-year seed grant to help establish the Center for Prison Education at Wesleyan University. Since then, CPE has enrolled 176 students in two prisons, partnered with Middlesex Community College so that students may earn an associates degree through the Second Chance Pell program, and now offers a Wesleyan University Bachelor’s in Liberal Studies degree. To date, CPE has awarded 43 Middlesex associate degrees and 12 Wesleyan bachelor’s degrees, including one Phi Beta Kappa honoree.
The CPE currently offers 9 credited courses per semester, as well as summer coursework and non-credited workshops, and an on-going guest lecture series.
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.
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). 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 around 30 courses to an average of 130 students annually at MCIJ and the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women (MCIW). Students earn credit toward a Goucher College bachelor’s of arts degree in American Studies if the complete their coursework inside the prison. 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 who 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 capacity building grant which enabled GPEP to revamp its website, launch social media, have professional videos made, and create new printed materials.
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 at both Westville and a maximum security prison north of Indianapolis, where those admitted then transfer to Westville. Over fifty 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, 134 students have been enrolled in MCI and Holy Cross has celebrated three Commencement ceremonies at Westville. The first cohort of Bachelor’s degree recipients will graduate in May, 2018.
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 in Washington and creates pathways to higher education after women are released from prison. In 2016, FEPPS partnered with Tacoma Community College for Second Chance Pell status. To date, FEPPS has enrolled 325 students and the first associate’s degree students graduated in 2016. Another 19 students completed their associate’s degrees in 2017, and as many as 30 more graduates are expected in 2018. All 12 alumni who have been released from prison are enrolled in two and four-year colleges and universities. One alumna was just accepted at Columbia University, and another graduated from the University of Washington in June 2017.
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. 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.
In 2014, a panel of educators convened at Bennington 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 the Prison Education Initiative (PEI) at Bennington College in 2015. PEI currently enrolls students at Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, New York. Students who earn at least 32 Bennington College credits through PEI may apply to BPI as transfer students to complete Bard College degrees. PEI was an original Second Chance Pell site and offers college prep in addition to a wide range of liberal arts coursework.
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.
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 elite 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 Danbury, a federal facility in 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 will award its first degrees in the 2022-2023 academic year.
Emerson College launched the Emerson Prison Initiative (EPI) in 2017. Operating at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Concord (MCI-Concord), a men’s medium-security prison, EPI affirms the value of a liberal arts education regardless of student circumstance. Students admitted to EPI are admitted students of Emerson College, and take courses similar to those taught to students on Emerson’s main campus. 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 local colleges. Through a carefully constructed curriculum, EPI provides a pathway to 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, MCI-Concord became an approved degree-granting campus of Emerson College. In 2022, EPI began offering courses at Northeastern Correctional Center, a minimum security prison for men, in order to provide academic continuity for students as their status changes within the Department of Correction. The EPI Reentry and College Outside Program (RECOUP) works to support students in successful transitions to life after prison.
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.
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 transferable 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.
Marian University joined the Consortium in 2019 with the creation of the Women’s College Partnership at IWP. A joint venture with BPI, the Partnership enrolls students at the Indiana Women’s Prison (IWP) on the west side of Indianapolis. The inaugural cohort matriculated in January 2019 and have earned Marian University associate in arts and bachelor’s degrees. 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.
The Augustana Prison Education Program (APEP) was founded in 2021 by Augustana College, a selective, private liberal arts college in Rock Island, Illinois, and offers a BA degree with a Communication Studies major 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. The program currently serves 23 students and is designed to add annually 16-20 students per cohort. APEP students complete nearly identical degree requirements as those earned by students on the Augustana campus; 2022-23 include Biology, Classics, Communication, Creative Writing, Economics, English, History, Liberal Arts, Physics, Political Science, Psychology 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. Augustana College joined the Consortium in 2022. APEP is a Second Chance Pell site and is funded by the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation, local community foundations, and private donors.
BPI in Action
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.
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
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.
Diverse Issues in Higher Education
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.
The St. Louis Dispatch
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.