HBCU, Mississippi State Valley University (MVSU) is providing opportunities for incarcerated people at two prisons in the Delta to earn four-year degrees this fall for the first time in more than two decades, according to a university press release.
The university, adjacent to Itta Bena, Mississippi, is implementing Valley State’s Prison Educational Partnership Program (PEPP) as part of a growing initiative backed by the Second Chance Pell Experiment.
The Second Chance Pell Experiment was first established in 2015 by the Obama–Biden administration to provide Pell grants to incarcerated individuals to restore access to postsecondary education programs.
“Access to high-quality postsecondary education is essential to incarcerated individuals, but for far too long, people in prison were left out,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, per the U.S. Department of Education.
“The expansion of Second Chance Pell and these new pathways out of default are critical steps for incarcerated individuals to be able to access educational opportunities that will provide second chances to build a future.”
While other colleges have participated in the federal program, PEPP will be the first program run by a Historically Black College in Mississippi. In this case, the Second Chance Pell program is limited to incarcerated students with a high school degree or GED diploma who expect to be released.
The university has accepted about 50 incarcerated students for the first semester of classes at Bolivar County Correctional Facility and the Delta Correctional Facility, a prison in Greenwood for people who violated parole.
According to Provost Kathie Stromile Golden, the program is aimed at the disproportionate number of Black incarcerated people to connect with an institution of the Black community.
“Many incarcerated people are parents and relatives of our students,” Stromile Golden stated in a press release.
“It’s in our best interest to do something like this because these are the very same people who will come back to our community.”
Rochelle McGee-Cobbs, an associate professor of criminal justice, is leading the charge as the director of PEPP. Last year, McGee-Cobbs teamed up with faculty and administration to establish the prison education program. She even visited the prisons on multiple occasions to provide paper applications for potential students because they didn’t have computer access.
“Here at Mississippi Valley State University, regardless of where a student is at when they come in, we try to make sure that we nourish them,” McGee-Cobbs said.
“We try to make sure that we cater to the needs of each student.”