The Cornell Prison Education Program: An Overview

By Christopher Zoukis

Serving the Central New York and Finger Lakes region, the Cornell University Education Program provides college-level instruction to prison inmates who meet the program’s requirements.  Both Cornell faculty and graduate students teach prisoners located at the Auburn Correctional Facility and the Cayuga Correctional Facility.  Cayuga Community College accredits the earned degrees and confers Associate’s Degrees on inmates who complete the required coursework. 

Mission and Vision  Image courtesy facebook.com

With a goal to prepare inmates “to join the workforce as informed citizens” and provide them with new skills to “negotiate some of the tensions that shape their everyday existence,” the Cornell program is small, but utterly focused, according to its website.  Instructors and other volunteers work with inmates in both maximum and medium security prisons and instruct students with an eye to prepare them for their future lives outside of prison once they reenter society.  Students pay no tuition or fees to obtain this valuable instruction from renowned Cornell faculty. 

Program History

While it’s not commonplace for Ivy League institutions to take their coursework to prisons, Cornell began to do just that in 1999 after public funding for prison education was cut.  While the program began on a volunteer basis with Cornell faculty giving their time to area prisons, it has been able to expand its offerings based on grants from foundations like the Sunshine Lady Foundation.  Instructors have designed their curriculum with a largely liberal arts focus.  While Cornell faculty and graduate students provide instruction, the program is also supported by about forty undergraduate students who work as teaching assistants and tutors.

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