September 17, 2018

Column: Prisoners among MWCC's best students

We at Mount Wachusett Community College have a strong belief in the power of education to transform lives. Our vision statement explicitly describes the school as "a college of opportunity and a model for teaching and learning excellence."

With our ongoing prisoner education programming and inclusion this month in an effort to build a statewide framework for this work, MWCC is educating a population greatly benefitting from a strong foundation as they seek new employment. But the work is not just about the individuals; our overall economy benefits from having an educated workforce.

A consortium of Massachusetts colleges and universities – including MWCC, MIT, Boston University, Tufts University and Emerson College – won a grant from the Vera Institute of Justice to grow our prisoner education programming. The ability for colleges to offer prisoner education has waxed and waned depending upon political will, but through $250,000 in funding from the Vera Institute, this consortium will be working to create an educational pipeline at each of Massachusetts' prisons.

MWCC and the Massachusetts Department of Corrections Division of Inmate Training & Education have already built a strong relationship. We offer employment preparation for inmates within five years of their release.

The programming places significant responsibility upon the inmates and focuses on ensuring the student is poised to be a productive member of our community. The benefits include not only a boost to the local workforce but a research-proven decline in re-incarceration. Prisoners with a postsecondary education are 43 percent less likely to reoffend. This makes sense because 65 percent of all new jobs require some postsecondary education, and yet only 22 percent of people in state prison have that type of education.

With MWCC, specifically, the DOC literally broke down walls to provide classroom space. DOC built new programs to better prepare students for college and have given us the access it takes to successfully meet with potential students. Of course, there are restrictions, such as no internet access, and guidelines on materials to be used in the classroom.

And yet, these are some of the college's best students. In May of this year, MWCC graduated its first cohort of inmates with a business certificate: 22 men graduated; six finished with a perfect 4.0 GPA and 16 achieved high honors. Make no mistake, these are hard-working students.

At that graduation, the DOC invited family members to attend the ceremony. Young children watched their fathers receive their certificates. MWCC staff members overheard one mother tell her son, "This is the most excited your daughter has ever been to come visit you here."

Hearing that was incredibly moving and strengthened our commitment to MWCC's vision of being the college of opportunity for our students and the region.

Rachel Fricke Cardelle is the vice president of lifelong learning & workforce development at MWCC in Gardner.


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