Theses Doctoral

Higher Education-in-prison Programs: a Multisite Case Analysis of Partnerships Between Higher Education Institutions and Prisons in New York State

Matherson, Jerée Monique

For nearly three decades, the United States of America has been the consistent leader in incarceration rates worldwide. A number of structural social problems have contributed to this reality (e.g., the school-to-prison pipeline, the 1994 Crime Bill, and aggressive surveillance and policing of poor and minority neighborhoods). Recently, a number of structural solutions have presented themselves in effort to decarcerate prisons and consider pathways for returning citizens with emphasis on housing, healthcare, and education.

This dissertation focuses on the education component with an eye toward higher education-in-prison programs (HEPPs). The last decade denotes an inflection point for mass incarceration and HEPPs in part due to increased funding from public and private sectors as well as bipartisan support for making higher education accessible for incarcerated people. In the midst of cross-sector support for these programs, the colleges and universities providing the core elements – teaching and learning – have been mostly silent actors. This study looks at partnerships between prisons and higher education institutions and centers the voices and narratives of higher education faculty and administrators responsible for leading HEPPs.

Drawing on the civic mission of higher education, as well as participants’ conceptions of their work, this study considers how faculty and administrators describe the intent and function of their HEPPs and the extent to which they align with the civic mission of higher education. Through a qualitative multisite case analysis of three higher education institutions in New York State, the findings of this study reveal that these programs view themselves as being responsive to historical structures of inequity in higher education and broader society. They also conveyed a desire for their programs to become an institutionalized component of their college or university. There were five patterns, across cases, that provided insight into these programs and multiple levels including: (1.) program professionals, (2.) program place and space, (3.) programs in service to the institutional mission and civic mission, (4.) program attentiveness to external factors, and (5.) program conceptualization: the two-way partnership misnomer. These patterns might also prove relevant to university partnerships more broadly.

The study concludes with implications for theory, practice, and future research related to HEPPs with emphasis on the need to situate all aspects of these programs not, as they often are, in economic and workforce metrics, but rather in the experiences of faculty, staff, and students participating in college-in-prison as well as returning citizens attending college.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Organization and Leadership
Thesis Advisors
Drezner, Noah D.
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 7, 2023