Inside Higher Ed

Liberal Arts, Behind Bars

When Congress barred prisoners from receiving Pell Grants, in 1994, the college enrollment of prisoners fell dramatically. The numbers are starting to rise again, primarily from community colleges. Four-year private colleges are the sector least likely to offer prison education programs, which is why a recently approved pilot program at Wesleyan University – offering for-credit courses to some Connecticut inmates — is all the more notable.

Last month, the Wesleyan Center for Prison Education gained full support from the faculty – its last step toward approval, after securing support from the university president and his cabinet. Students had been pushing for the program for several years.

“This has truly been a student initiative,” Cathy Lechowicz, director of community service and volunteerism and advisor to the program, said. “I would say that there is general support around campus – the underlying belief is that prisoners should have access to education.”

Fifteen prisoners at the Cheshire Correctional Institute, for a start. That is how many inmates – of the roughly 1,300 at the Cheshire facility – will be selected through a “competitive application process” for the two-year pilot program, Lechowicz said. The inmate-students will take two courses each semester for a total of four semesters, earning up to eight credits (Wesleyan awards one credit per course). While the inmates are not degree-seeking candidates – as the length of the pilot is not long enough to complete a degree – they will finish courses with full Wesleyan credit, complete with a transcript available should they choose to transfer to another college upon release.

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