By Kenia Miranda Verdugo

The Michelson 20MM Foundation left the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison (NCHEP) inspired by strides taken to increase the availability and effectiveness of education behind bars. The conference was a gathering of the minds, bringing together educators, administrators, students, alumni, practitioners, nonprofits, and funders from all over the country in Atlanta, Georgia. Needless to say, the conversations and presentations were influential and—dare I say—jaw dropping.

The theme of the conference was “Close the Distance,” which was accomplished both literally and physically via the inclusion of remote participants and speakers from inside prisons. In fact, four incarcerated individuals were given the opportunity to attend in person and inspired many collaborations across the state. Attendees discussed the distances that exist between the “inside” and the “outside;” as Ved Price, Executive Director of the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison said, “The inside does not mean out of sight, out of mind.” He went on to emphasize how people are not the ones who need to be transformed; rather, conditions are what need to change.

NCHEP began with a plenary session concerning the partnership between the Maine Department of Corrections and the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison. The partnership entails providing paid livable wages to incarcerated students so that they can put their education to practice. As a result, students have an opportunity to advance their skills, build their resumes, and help provide for their families on the outside. Sessions that highlighted what states are doing to strengthen and expand in- prison programming, underscored art programming as a form of freedom of expression, and promoted andragogy learning models that provide peer mentorship. Michelson 20MM also shared on California’s Best Practices: Pathways From Prison to College and discussed how the guidelines would benefit the entire state and nation. 

The conference was a great way to close out 2023 and provided us with invigorating ideas and excitement for the year to come! We hope to continue the conversations and create action plans to address the disparities between career opportunities and access to resources, the separations of families and communities, and our intentions and our impact. Hope to see you at NCHEP 2024!

Michelson 20MM is a private, nonprofit foundation working toward equity for underserved and historically underrepresented communities by expanding access to educational and employment opportunities, increasing affordability of educational programs, and ensuring the necessary supports are in place for individuals to thrive. To do so, we work in the following verticals: Digital Equity, Intellectual Property, Smart Justice, Student Basic Needs, and Open Educational Resources (OER). Co-chaired and funded by Alya and Gary Michelson, Michelson 20MM is part of the Michelson Philanthropies network of foundations.

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