Non-traditional is more and more traditional when it comes to students in higher education. At SUNY, our effort to provide access to a college degree to all New Yorkers continues to be key to our mission. One of the unique ways we’re providing access to education is through the second chance programs with prisons and the New York State Department of Corrections, and these efforts to educate the incarcerated are now ready to expand further with more than $7 million in grants recently being awarded to a variety of colleges around the state to offer courses to prisoners.
The goal with this effort is to give inmates a second chance at a higher education while also reducing recidivism, or relapsing into criminal behavior again and again. These students will be allowed to work towards an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree that can prepare them to be contributors to society after they complete their terms in corrections. As studies have shown, a more educated society is a safer society. So by offering more opportunity to those incarcerated today, we can collectively work on increasing the numbers of educated individuals tomorrow.
We know that there are thousands of more opportunities available to those with a college degree, so this is a step in that direction. The opportunities generated by this effort allow citizens who served their time after making a mistake to start life outside of incarceration on a better path. As stated in Governor Cuomo’s announcement of the awards,” A study conducted by The Rand Corporation in 2013 found that individuals who participate in prison education programs are 43 percent less likely to recidivate and return to prison, and 13 percent more likely to obtain employment after their release.”
Two SUNY campuses were announced to lead this expansion effort. Mohawk Valley Community College and Jefferson Community College have been tapped by Governor Cuomo to participate in this project. In addition SUNY will work with CUNY in an administrative way to coordinate this project and help to develop mechanisms and pathways that help the students earn degrees.
Our Chairman of the Board of Trustees, H. Carl McCall stands behind this effort to expand education programs for the incarcerated. He says,
“…As the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the State University of New York, I resoundingly applaud Governor Cuomo’s plan to expand collegiate offerings for incarcerated people. I am extremely proud that two SUNY institutions, Mohawk Community College and Jefferson Community College, have been chosen to participate in this endeavor. It is the responsibility of public higher education to provide every citizen with the opportunity to pursue their best life. This responsibility includes the residents of our state who may have made regrettable decisions in their pasts.
Studies have also repeatedly shown that higher education is the most effective reducer of recidivism in our society. With these principals in mind, I am committed to aiding Governor Cuomo in every way I can to help equip those currently incarcerated with the skills needed to establish successful lives upon released that will prevent them from reentering the criminal justice system.”
SUNY serves all New Yorkers who seek a higher education. We aim to “provide to the people of New York educational services of the highest quality, with the broadest possible access, fully representative of ALL segments of the population.” Only when we prepare more people to contribute to society can we fully realize our full collective potential. This effort continues us on that path.
Taras Kufel is the Manager of Digital Engagement at the State University of New York.