Boston University Prison Education Program

By Christopher Zoukis

Since 1972, Boston University has been offering prison inmates a chance to obtain a college degree while incarcerated. According to the Prison Studies Project, more than 280 students have obtained bachelor’s degrees through this program, and some even continue on to get master’s degrees, as well. Prison education has numerous benefits, and Boston University recognized this decades ago.  

Overview of BU Prison Education Program

The Boston University Prison Education Program offers inmates a chance to earn a Bachelor of Liberal Studies in Interdisciplinary Studies. Anyone who completes this program is considered a graduate of Boston University (BU), which is a distinction that even people who have never been in prison would benefit from. The point of BU’s Prison Education Program is to not only offer a college degree, but also turn inmates into contributing members of society upon their release.  Image courtesy bu.edu

BU offers a wide selection of classes for prisoners, allowing them to take part in courses that interest them and further their education at the same time. Just some of the approximately 600 subjects available include the following:

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BU’s Prison Education Program Thrives Despite Pell Grant Ban

By Emily Payne

Boston University students know their acronyms, and from their college names to where to grab some lunch, it seems as if everything is shortened to a cryptic, insider code. Here’s one that is less known: PEP. Type that into the BU search bar and you’ll find pages on the Pep Band, Professional Education Programs, and Pre-Engineering Programs. But “bu.edu/PEP” will take you to a place where students are less likely to visit: the BU Prison Education Program. Turns out that Boston University is one of the leaders of prison education in Massachusetts, a sector of higher education that has been struggling to stay afloat.

Back in 1994, Congress passed a major crime law amendment which banned prisoners from receiving Pell Grants, a major source of federal aid. The misconception of the time was that giving prisoners Pell Grants reduced the amount of aid available to non-criminals. In reality, according to The Real Cost of Prisons Project, only 25,000 of 4.7 million available Pell Grants had been distributed to prisoners in that year, which comes out to about 0.5% of the funds. Nonetheless, because of the controversy surrounding the cause and the many misconceptions of its use, the aid diminished.

But why should we care if criminals get an education, you say? After all, we all stayed out of prison (for the most part) so that we could go to a university, receive our degrees, obtain successful jobs, etc. Well, according to a report of the Institute of Higher Education in 2005, higher education for prisoners “remains a crucial strategy in efforts to reduce recidivism and slow the growth of the nation’s incarcerated population.” Basically, a higher education provides an outlet for prisoners and gives them options upon release. They leave prison in a better position to hold a job and become an upstanding citizen, rather than revert back to the lifestyle that led them to prison to begin with.

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