Interlude: credit/no credit

You tussle with the credit/no credit question. Your “program” is really just a class, now two, and your college has committed to supply books and writing materials for the year, but this is temporary and credit isn’t even on the table. You’re trying to connect with a community college program that maybe could count your classes…

But there’s the one woman who struggles to read, wow can she sing, and a woman who looks so tired she can’t hold her head up; lost her glasses, can’t see the print; speaks in Spanish to your student; is always on page one; and want to be in this classroom space. What about access for those who can’t jump the hoops for the for-credit program: disqualified by debt, too young too old, didn’t graduate high school, didn’t pass the entrance exam…?

You listen in on an online conversation going on among folks doing education in prisons, in response to the news that Pell Grants might be reinstated “on an experimental basis” for some incarcerated students. There is hope, also questions about how governmental support might impact program quality. And the issue of who deserves free education is a hot one–-among prison employees, whose own families might not be able to afford college, and also among your students.the issue of who deserves free education is a hot one–-among prison employees, whose own families might not be able to afford college, and also among your students.

A corrections officer at the higher ed in prison conference: I still have mixed feelings about education in prison. My daughter and I paid for our own education, and she is still paying off her loans. They are receiving a gift that they haven’t earned, through their behavior, and they need to pay that forward; there needs to be a citizenship component.

And back in our college classroom, a student speaks passionately about her family: her immigrant mom (husband in prison), her brothers and sisters, aunts, cousins–who will pay for their education? Others argue that this is a false opposition: none of these people are winners, only global capitalism winning here.

You have a disturbing exchange of emails with the person who runs the community college for-credit prison education program, which is understaffed, in its last year of funding, and frustratingly stymied by issues of disqualification on the way in and rising debt and other challenges on reentry. Their completion stats are dismal. These difficulties stem from a snarl of obstacles seemingly disconnected from the intent of the program and its funders, and contradictory to wider claims about the value of education:

Statistical evidence overwhelmingly confirms that a college education reduces recidivism, increases employment opportunities, and strengthens communities. The Justice-In-Education Initiative seeks to provide greater educational opportunities to those who are or have been incarcerated, as well as to enrich the academic life of faculty and students wishing to engage in issues of contemporary justice.1

  1. $1 Million Grant Awarded from Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for New Justice-in-Education Initiative,” The Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University, May 12, 2015, accessed May 20, 2016.