ROCK SPRING, Ga. — On Friday, May 5, Georgia State University’s Perimeter College will graduate its first class of students who have completed their college degree while incarcerated.
Nine students at Walker State Prison in Rock Spring, Ga., will receive their associate degrees in general studies. The students participated in Georgia State University’s Prison Education Project (GSUPEP), which provides college courses in prisons. All students completed the 60 credit hours required for an associate degree.
Among the nine graduates, three are graduating with highest honors with 3.9-4.0 GPAs, and six are graduating 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 will graduate in cap and gown, with Georgia State President Dr. M. Brian Blake and Perimeter College Interim Dean Dr. 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,” said President Blake. “The degree they rightfully earned can never be taken away.”
Georgia State faculty and prison staff will also attend 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,” said Walker State Warden Jeanie Kasper. “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.
“We are so proud,” said Interim Dean Lester. “These graduates have overcome immeasurable obstacles to reach this milestone. To be part of the inaugural class at Walker State makes this graduation even more significant because we know that access to higher education benefits our students and communities.”
Caroline Cain, a counselor at Walker State Prison, also has seen the 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."