January 26, 2023

Celebrating 10 years of the Goucher Prison Education Partnership

Over the past decade, GPEP has been devoted to its mission to provide an excellent college education to students incarcerated in Maryland. More than 100 professors have taught over 200 college courses to more than 300 students in GPEP’s first 10 years.

  • Goucher College faculty and graduates from GPEP

“I want to show what can happen when you empower people with education,” said Sekwan Merritt, small business owner and former Goucher Prison Education Partnership (GPEP) student.

In late 2022, those words echoed throughout the Hyman Forum of Goucher’s main campus as Merritt, a master electrician and owner of Lightning Electric, spoke as part of an alumnae/i panel at the 10th-anniversary celebration for GPEP. Hundreds of former students, alumnae/i, faculty, staff, and supporters gathered in person and via livestream to celebrate GPEP’s first decade.

In 2012, a group of Goucher faculty and volunteers worked with former Goucher College President Sandy Ungar to formally launch GPEP. The partnership’s first cohort of 15 students began coursework that year to earn Goucher College credits at the Maryland Correctional Institution – Jessup (MCIJ) and the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women (MCIW). GPEP has now grown to enroll 130 students each year.

Over the past decade, GPEP has been devoted to its mission to provide an excellent college education to students incarcerated in Maryland. As they earn that education, students develop as scholars and leaders. More than 100 professors have taught over 200 college courses to more than 300 students in GPEP’s first 10 years.

Eliza Cornejo, GPEP’s executive director, first became involved with GPEP eight years ago as a volunteer. She says, “I am now honored to be stewarding the strong foundation that Amy Roza and so many others built. With our mission to guide us, we seek to fundamentally expand academic opportunities for students and alumni in the next five years and far beyond.”

Cornejo says that GPEP’s focus over the next five years will include launching three new key initiatives to serve students better. First, the partnership will expand academic offerings to more closely parallel what students on Goucher’s primary campus experience, including writing and defending a senior thesis, the opportunity to be named to the Dean’s List, and the peer tutoring program, which was launched in Fall 2022.

Second, GPEP will work to reduce the time to earn a bachelor’s degree from the current eight to ten years to the targeted four to five years by offering mini semesters, including over summer and winter break, and offering the opportunity for students to become full-time students. This will allow more students to complete their degrees inside prison, so when they are released from prison, they return home with a bachelor’s degree.

Finally, GPEP will partner with local organizations specializing in supporting individuals returning home after prison. Connecting former students with resources for housing, employment, and the like will allow them to resume college coursework more quickly.

Faculty frequently comment on how well-prepared and highly motivated GPEP students are. Donalto Marshall ’22 is a perfect example. Marshall shared, “When I started with Goucher in 2017, I was thirsty for knowledge. I was a former gang member and got caught up in a lot of things in my past. When I was introduced to GPEP, I was so excited because it was a second chance.”

Marshall finished his bachelor’s degree on Goucher’s main campus in the spring of 2022. During his college experience, he leveraged his education to complete a yearlong internship with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and co-author an op-ed for The Baltimore Sun regarding COVID-19 vaccination rates in Black Marylanders. He is now a small business owner and entrepreneur.

Central to the principles of GPEP is the importance of equitable access to a rigorous in-person college education. Application to Goucher through GPEP is open to anyone incarcerated in or working as a correctional officer in the two prisons in which GPEP operates. Students must demonstrate a tenacious willingness to work hard at their coursework. For its part, GPEP provides all needed resources for students to succeed through college preparatory classes, academic advising, tutoring, books, and materials.

The importance of a broad liberal arts education is fundamental to Goucher College and GPEP, which are committed to providing access to a diverse set of disciplines and ideas. Students make meaningful connections through in-person instruction and the ability to take part in robust curricula debates with fellow students and professors. GPEP also offers students the opportunity to network and connect with tutors and mentors who can help support them during their education and after they return home.

“The cost to educate a single student for a year is $8,000. That investment changes the life of that one student, their peers in prison, and their family for generations to come. Investing in GPEP students is, hands down, the best investment you will ever make,” says Cornejo.