U.S. Secretary of Education Discusses Prison Education at CT State Middlesex

Cardona roundtable

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April 16, 2024 (Middletown, Conn.) — On April 16, Connecticut State Community College Middlesex welcomed U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to the Middletown campus to highlight the importance of high-quality career pathways programs in correctional facilities and promote community colleges. He was joined by Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont during a roundtable discussion.

Sec. Cardona and Gov. LamontSecretary Cardona’s visit began at the Cheshire Correctional Institution, where he observed classroom instruction administered through CT State Middlesex and the Wesleyan University Center for Prison Education (CPE) program. The partnership, formed in 2016, offers a degree component, whereby students take a combination of coursework that can lead to a Middlesex associate degree.

“It’s emotional to see the sense of purpose. It’s time to level up and we now have that opportunity. We’re poised to really take that next step forward,” said Cardona, who grew up in Meriden and completed Middlesex college courses as a high school student. “Education is an investment and we have a role in the federal level.”

At the CT State Middlesex campus in Middletown, Secretary Cardona led a panel discussion with Governor Lamont, Tess Wheelwright, CPE director, and Daniel Karpowitz, Connecticut’s undersecretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division.

Panel participants also included Jason Torello, who earned an associate degree as a 2018 graduate of the Wesleyan/Middlesex program, and Brian Sullivan Sr., a graduate of the Second Chance Pell Program at CT State Asnuntuck. Middlesex professors Jill Flanigan and Pamela Frost contributed as faculty members. Terrence Cheng, chancellor, Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, John Maduko, president, CT State Community College, and Kimberly Hogan, CT State Middlesex CEO, represented college leadership.

They discussed how the partnerships between correctional facilities and community colleges can create opportunities to redefine and expand career pathways for incarcerated students nationwide.

Torello, who now works as a sound engineer and musician, said the program changed his entire life.

“I’m more than what I did,” added Sullivan while emphasizing that educated incarcerated people can reduce crime and make streets safer. “[The program] allowed me to see myself in a different light.”

As faculty liaison, Flanigan said it’s a good fit for a community college and expressed her efforts to encourage faculty to teach in the program while working to align courses resulting in transfer credits.

roundtable panelistsFrost, a math professor, said that once she developed a trust with the students, it sparked something in them that they never could imagine, going from “I can’t” to “well, maybe” to “I did it” as a belief in themselves.

“No matter how down and out you may feel in your life, it’s a sense that we believe in you. That’s what we try to do every day. That’s what great teachers do and that’s what we try to do in Connecticut,” said Lamont.

The Second Chance Pell Program allows qualified incarcerated students to receive federal Pell Grant funding for postsecondary education. Cardona is seeking to increase the Pell amount from $7,400 to $8,100.

More than 50 students have earned degrees through the CPE program. In 2018, the first class of 19 Cheshire graduates earned Middlesex associate degrees, and in 2019, seven women at York Correctional Institution first earned Middlesex degrees.

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