New Lehman Partnership Offers Path to Degree for Formerly Incarcerated Students

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A paved path running between large trees. A subway train on elevated tracks is visible on the right.

Lehman College and the nonprofit Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison have launched a new partnership to help formerly incarcerated students complete degrees they’d started while in the corrections system. The initiative was formalized at a memorandum of understanding signing ceremony in December.

“Lehman’s partnership with Hudson Link is an expression of the College’s vision and humanitarian values,” said Lehman College Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Student Success Peter O. Nwosu. “Many of our Bronx neighbors are impacted by the criminal justice system in some way, and our work with Hudson Link will further Lehman’s mission to serve the Bronx community, create educational and economic opportunity, and transform lives.” 

With the MOU in place, Lehman becomes the 10th college to collaborate with Hudson Link, which sponsors college degree-granting programs in five correctional facilities across New York State and reentry support to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. However, unlike the organization’s existing partners, which offer degree programs within prisons, Lehman will focus on helping students finish their degrees after their release through the College’s Adult Degree Program

“By opening a clear path to Lehman, the agreement will foster the ability for formerly incarcerated students to complete their degrees in a coordinated effort,” said Anne Rice, an associate Africana Studies professor at Lehman who has long taught for Hudson Link and is a liaison between the organization and the College. “It’s doing something that’s really quite exceptional.”

Lehman’s Adult Degree Program serves students ages 25 and older who are reentering college or entering for the first time and offers a range of services to help them make the transition. Although students in the program start out taking for-credit courses designed to facilitate their success at Lehman, they are fully integrated into the college community once they choose a major.

Under the MOU, the College will guide Hudson Link students who have completed at least one semester of study while incarcerated in applying for admission to the Adult Degree Program, as well as financial aid; pair them with a dedicated faculty advisor; and provide job placement assistance through Lehman’s career center. 

“Our new partnership with Lehman College is an incredible opportunity for our organization,” said Sean Pica, Hudson Link’s executive director. “Hudson Link students now have a campus to welcome them as they continue their educational journeys after coming home to help bring them to the finish line. Several of our students have already started at Lehman, and we can’t wait to see this partnership grow further with this MOU.”

Until now, many formerly incarcerated and justice-involved students, including those in Hudson Link, enrolled in Lehman’s Adult Degree Program through an unofficial pipeline established primarily by word of mouth, said Jane MacKillop, dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, which houses the program. They’re often familiar with Carl Mazza, a professor and chair of Lehman’s Department of Social Work, who has built a strong reputation in the field of prison education, she added. 

“The Adult Degree Program has long served people who are formerly incarcerated, and we’re very experienced in meeting their needs,” she said.

The new partnership also builds on Reentry@Lehman, an initiative spearheaded by Professor of Music Penny Prince in 2017 to create a welcoming, supportive, and respectful learning environment for Lehman students impacted by the criminal justice system, including those who have experienced incarceration and those with family members who are or were incarcerated. Provost Nwosu established a formal Reentry Task Force in 2019 that currently comprises over 45 students, faculty, and staff, including key members Prince, MacKillop, Mazza, Rice, and Adult Degree Program Director Pam Hinden.

The task force has hosted guest speakers from various sectors of the criminal justice system and offered specialized training in areas such as trauma and fair housing and employment practices to help faculty and staff better support formerly incarcerated students.

Rice said she was eager for more Hudson Link students to have the opportunity to experience the vibrant, diverse, and caring community for which Lehman is known and take advantage of its campus.            

“They can continue to see themselves as college students, which is a really positive thing,” Rice said. “Everyone deserves a second chance.”