Higher Education in Prison
Mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline are at the center of any legitimate racial justice initiative in the United States. Understanding this, Campus Compact of Oregon developed an ongoing partnership with Portland State University's (PSU) Higher Education in Prison (HEP) program and the Second Chance Pell Experiment Sites Initiative.
The mission of PSU's HEP program is to expand rigorous, quality higher education at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility (CCCF) and to support justice-impacted students post-release. Because of its institutional commitment to equity and strategic urban location, PSU is uniquely positioned to create and strengthen educational opportunities that support incarcerated and reentering students, and to create pathways to degree completion.
Higher Ed. in Prison Program
The HEP program allows students to work towards a degree while experiencing incarceration and to be able to quickly and easily matriculate to the PSU campus upon release, while receiving the supports needed to be successful. The plan is to continue to develop a degree pathway for women, trans-identified and gender non-conforming adults in custody (AICs). This will be the first higher education degree pathway for incarcerated women in this state. This partnership reflects the experiences and collective voices of incarcerated students themselves, through the involvement and support of Rubicon GPS, comprising more than a dozen people in custody at CCCF who formed this group to advocate for access to educational opportunities while serving their sentences.
The first year of the HEP program consists of a 15-credit year-long interdisciplinary course on the theme of "Metamorphosis." Reflective writing, group discussions, and scaffolded learning activities are incorporated into the curriculum to enable students to develop a wide range of critical thinking and problem-solving skills while earning transferrable college credits. Students who began in Fall 2019 are continuing along a degree pathway. Courses offered in the second year include Families and Society, Writing as Critical Inquiry, Health People/Healthy Places, Introduction to Business and World Affairs, Natural Science Inquiry, and Business Communications.
Second Chance Pell Experiment Sites Initiative
The Second Chance Pell Experiment Sites Initiative is a U.S. Department of Education program that provides incarcerated individuals with Pell Grants for their education endeavors. In April of 2022, the Biden Administration announced an expansion of the program, potentially reaching up to 200 schools starting in July of 2023. This initiative was originally launched by the U.S. Department of Education in 2015 under the Obama Administration. The purpose of this initiative is to support and encourage incarcerated individuals who wish to continue their education through prison education programs, giving them the chance to not only gain an education but also increase their chances of successful re-entry and getting employed once they leave prison.