AUGUSTA — Through its Future of Higher Learning in Prison grant program, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s has awarded the University of Maine at Augusta a $941,000 grant in support of its Prison Education Partnership program. The Future of Higher Learning in Prison grant program “supports higher education for currently and formerly incarcerated students.”

“We are very honored to receive this grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in support of our Prison Education Partnership,” said UMA President Rebecca Wyke. “The Prison Education Partnership program is transformational to people’s lives. Providing educational opportunities within Maine’s correctional facilities furthers UMA’s mission to make a college education accessible to all,” Wyke continued. “Most importantly, these educational experiences are invaluable to our incarcerated students, reducing their recidivism rates and improving their employment opportunities upon release.”

UMA began providing educational opportunities at the Maine State Prison in 2006. Funding for this program, which has awarded over 130 associates and bachelor’s degrees since its inception, began with the Doris Buffett Sunshine Lady Foundation. The Prison Education Partnership program has expanded to other state correctional facilities with the aid of federal Second Chance Pell funding.  The two-year Mellon Foundation grant will allow the program to integrate fully higher education opportunities at all state corrections facilities.

“We have an exceptional partner in the Maine Department of Corrections,” stated Deborah Meehan, executive director of UMA Centers. “The leadership at the Maine State Prison and the DOC, particularly Commissioner Randall Liberty, has been supportive of our efforts since the beginning and will be instrumental for the successful implementation of this generous grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.”

Additionally, the grant funds will support a director to coordinate UMA’s PEP; obtain technology needed to continue educational programming when onsite instruction is not possible (as experienced during the pandemic), and expand the Humanities based courses and extra-curricular lectures and similar activities in partnership with the Maine Humanities Council. 

“This award, and the continued collaboration with UMA is in keeping with our collective commitment to the transformative power of education, which I have witnessed first-hand throughout my career in corrections,” says Liberty.

“The Mellon Foundation grant will allow UMA to expand our course offerings in two important areas,” said Greg Fahy, UMA dean of the College of Arts and Science. “The current pandemic brought into clear focus the need for additional technology to enhance our ability to teach remotely within the prisons when access for in-person instruction is not available. Additionally, through our partnership with the Maine Humanities Council and the Freedom and Captivity Initiative based at Colby College, our Humanities programming will be greatly expanded in the classroom and through extra-curricular opportunities.”

In fall 2020, 82 students were enrolled at five correctional facilities and a similar enrollment is expected for spring 2021. UMA provides high-quality college courses, both in-person and online via Zoom, at the Maine State Prison, the Maine Correctional Center, Bolduc Correctional Facility, Mountain View Correctional Facility and the Southern Maine Women’s Reentry Center.

UMA’s full-time and part-time faculty teach courses at these locations, with the same academic standards regardless of a student’s incarceration status. Courses include college writing, literature, biology, math, psychology, sociology, art history, gender studies, as well as advanced coursework in human rights, history, social science, restorative justice, writing and literature. UMA’s Centers across the state provide student support services in addition to guidance and re-entry support as students transition back to their communities.