First Inmates Graduate from Wesleyan Program
Associate Degrees Earned by 16 Sixteen Men, Nine Women
CHESHIRE, Conn. (AP) — Nine years after Wesleyan University began offering college courses to inmates at Connecticut’s Cheshire Correctional Institution, 25 prisoners have become the first to earn degrees.
Sixteen men and nine women are receiving associate degrees in General Education as part of a partnership that began in 2016 between the Wesleyan Center for Prison Education and Middlesex Community College.
Graduation ceremonies for the male inmates were held inside Cheshire. A similar ceremony for the women took place last week at the York Correctional Institution.
School officials say the classes are the same ones offered outside the prisons, and inmates often have a higher grade-point average than traditional college students.
Prisoners are chosen for the program after submitting academic applications, with no consideration given to their crimes or the length of their sentences.
The program is paid for mostly through private sources, but 14 percent of the money comes from federal grants.
Program manager Noah Barth said critics often wonder why those serving time for murder and other violent offenses are being offered classes many outside of prison walls cannot afford to take.
Tuition for traditional Wesleyan students is more than $54,000 a year.
Barth points to statistics which show those who receive higher education behind bars are far less likely to commit other crimes once they are released. He also notes they often pass the education along, serving as mentors by starting reading groups and distributing copies of class materials to other prisoners.
“Education helps people prepare for life after prison, but it also helps them develop the skills to lead a more full, productive life both inside and outside,” he said. “We’ve had several students talk to us about how, after being in the program for some time, it is now the first time that they can help their son or daughter with their homework when they came for a visit. That bond can have a huge impact on that child’s life.”
Wesleyan is part of a consortium of liberal arts colleges running education programs the nation’s prisons, where college programs almost disappeared after a major federal crime bill passed in 1994 barred prisoners from applying for federal Pell education grants.
Wesleyan has offered accredited courses to students at Cheshire since 2009 and expanded those offerings in 2013 to include inmates at York.
Some federal money returned under the Obama administration’s three-year pilot Second Chance Pell program, making it easier for Wesleyan to start its partnership with the community college, Barth said. The pairing gives the program access to a system that has expertise in dealing with nontraditional students. It also makes it easier for students to transfer to state schools when they are released, he said.
The colleges offer about 20 courses a year in the prisons and about 70 inmates are currently enrolled.
The program currently does not offer a bachelors program, but is looking at that for the future, Barth said.
Connecticut also has Second Chance Pell programs offering associate degrees, certificates, or classes in manufacturing, business administration, and human services at six other facilities through Middlesex, Asnuntuck, Quinebaug, and Three Rivers Community Colleges.