University of Puget Sound announced Friday that its board of trustees approved a bachelor’s degree program for incarcerated women in the Washington Corrections Center for Women in partnership with Freedom Education Project Puget Sound (FEPPS). The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Puget Sound a $1 million grant to support development of the degree program. FEPPS provides a rigorous accredited college program and creates pathways to educational opportunity after women are released from prison.
Women are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. incarcerated population; state prison populations for women have grown at more than twice the rate for men over the past 40 years. Women of color are disproportionately represented. Many women in prison have had minimal access to education and come from impoverished backgrounds. Once released, women have often accrued significant debt, carry the stigma of incarceration, and are barred from many employment opportunities. Seven out of 10 women will return to prison, and education is the single most important factor in breaking the cycle of incarceration.
“Freedom Education Project Puget Sound is one of our signature programs, and we are thrilled to be able to more fully invest in this program that leverages both our role as an intellectual asset in our community and as an agent of social change,” said Isiaah Crawford, president of University of Puget Sound.
FEPPS was founded in 2011 by Puget Sound faculty members Tanya Erzen, associate research professor of religious studies and gender and queer studies; Stuart Smithers, professor and chair of religious studies; and Robin Jacobson, professor and chair of politics and government, working in collaboration with women in the prison. In January 2012, the first FEPPS class was offered inside the prison.
Currently, the program awards an Associate of Arts degree accredited by Tacoma Community College to students who successfully complete their coursework. Through the bachelor’s degree program, FEPPS students will have the opportunity to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies from University of Puget Sound. The university plans to admit a cohort of 10 to 15 students to the program every two to three years.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for the FEPPS students. Many of them have finished their associate degrees while in prison and continue to take classes just because they don’t want to stop learning,” said Erzen. She has been instrumental in FEPPS’ rise as it has become a nationally recognized model for college programs serving incarcerated women. “The bachelor’s degree program will enable FEPPS students to take the next step in their educational journey and build new lives for themselves and their families.”
This program extends University of Puget Sound’s deep engagement and partnership with FEPPS. Over the past six years, 35 faculty members have taught or lectured in the program, and almost 100 undergraduate students have volunteered as co-learners in study halls at the prison as part of an experiential learning course offered by Puget Sound. The university also supports FEPPS students with access to research opportunities and materials, and offers a class to tutors on working with students in the prison.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has been a longtime, generous supporter of Puget Sound, funding a high-impact internship program; the Latina/o Studies Program; new initiatives in the Humanities and Honors programs; programs that connect students’ academic and cocurricular experiences through residential seminars; and junior faculty sabbaticals.
More information is available at pugetsound.edu/FEPPS .