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First class of incarcerated students earns Georgia State degrees

Albany Herald - 5/8/2023

May 8—ROCK SPRING — Georgia State University'sPerimeter College recently graduated its first class of students who have completed their college degrees while incarcerated.

Nine students at Walker State Prison in Rock Spring received their associate's degrees in general studies. The students participated in Georgia State University'sPrison Education Project, which provides college courses in prisons. All students completed the 60 credit hours required for an associate's degree.

Among the nine graduates, three graduated with highest honors with 3.9-4.0 GPAs, and six graduated with high honors, achieving a GPA of 3.70-3.89. All coursework — from English to environmental science; from geology to philosophy and ethics — is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and was taught by Perimeter College faculty who traveled to the prison to teach the students.

Students graduated in cap and gown, with Georgia State President M. Brian Blake and Perimeter College Interim Dean Cynthia Lester bestowing their degrees virtually.

"Not only have these students demonstrated that they are critical thinkers by completing a degree, but they've also shown tremendous character to seek education and follow it through to the end," Blake said. "The degree they rightfully earned can never be taken away."

Georgia State faculty and prison staff also attended the closed ceremony.

For most of the students in the program, the education they received is the first time they've earned a degree.

"I learned several things about myself throughout the course of completing this degree, but the most important to me is that I do have worthwhile thoughts, ideas and insights," one new graduate said. "My long-term goal is to use the skills I've learned and developed to make positive and meaningful contributions to humanity. My immediate goals are to help others reach their education goals and to help them learn how to make better decisions."

"This has given me a passion for learning," said another student. "I never knew why someone would want to become a teacher, but I see how good it is to give back and now I get it."

"Walker is all about giving men opportunities to find their purpose," Walker State Warden Jeanie Kasper said. "Georgia State has been a large part in our program to give our men educational opportunities they would not otherwise have."

The GSUPEP program began in 2016 and offers college courses at Walker State Prison and Phillips State in Buford and is currently offering enrichment courses at the federal U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta.

Caroline Cain, a counselor at Walker State Prison, also has seen direct benefits of the program.

"Education is one of the leading factors in reducing recidivism in the United States," she said. "The GSUPEP program is helping do this in the state of Georgia."

Patrick Rodriguez, director of GSUPEP, concurred.

"This is a historic moment for Georgia State University," he said. "By providing incarcerated individuals with access to higher education, we are investing in their futures, breaking down barriers to social mobility and rejecting the stigmas that surround the potential of incarcerated people.

"This first graduating class will pave a way forward and be an example of what can be done when educational opportunities are provided to incarcerated people."


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