200 Incarcerated Students Receive Associates Degrees from the Lee College Huntsville Center

A graduating inmate looking to the left with a Nelson Mandela quote that reads, 'Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.'

It’s Never Too Late.

Most are familiar with the adage that states, “If you think you can and if you think you can’t, you’re right.” On June 22, 2019, a graduation took place to celebrate those who looked in the mirror and said, “I think I can.”

Thanks to hard work, determination, and a desire to improve their circumstances, nearly 200 incarcerated students (Students) received their Associates Degrees. As part of a collaboration between the Lee College Huntsville Center and the U.S. Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell Initiative, Students were given access to postsecondary courses and have now earned their degrees.

Texas Workforce Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez was invited to the facility to meet the graduates and provide the commencement speech for the ceremony.

“A postsecondary degree is a vital step towards finding good paying jobs that lead to financial security,” said Commissioner Alvarez. “I’m proud of the individuals at the Lee College Huntsville Center. We’ve all had obstacles in our lives, some beyond our control, that can be difficult to overcome. I applaud the resolve of these Students as they work to ensure that when the time comes they are properly prepared to find fulfilling careers as part of the thriving Texas workforce.”

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, so prison education programs that provide opportunities for Students to reenter society with the tools for success are essential. With a focus on promoting degrees aimed at creating self-sufficient Students ready to fill high demand jobs, institutions like the Lee College Huntsville Center are not only enriching the lives of their Students but bettering the community around them.

“Education in prison works,” said Dr. Michael Gary, a Professor at Lee College. “If you get your associate degree, the recidivism rate’s about 10 percent—90 percent stay out, 10 percent come back. With no higher education, the recidivism rate’s about 60 percent—you stand a better than 50-50 chance of coming back to prison.”

For these, and future grads, the TWC will be there to support them when they are ready to reenter the workforce. Utilizing a $100,000 Fidelity Bond Grant that will be available on July 1, 2019, the TWC will be able to coordinate with local boards to apply these funds to help at-risk job applicants, such as ex-offenders, get and keep jobs. Through free fidelity bonding, a type of insurance policy that protects the employer against employee acts of dishonesty such as larceny, embezzlement, and theft, the TWC and the Workforce Development Boards can reduce employers’ concerns about hiring at-risk job applicants who cannot be bonded through other sources.

Either the job applicant or the prospective employer can request bonding through any Workforce Solutions office. If the applicant is eligible, bonding coverage is effective immediately following certification or on the applicant’s first day of work once certified.

A rewarding career that provides job security and peace of mind should be available to all Texans no matter their circumstances. Through TWC sponsored Fidelity Bonding and programs like those available at the Lee College Huntsville Center, a historically underserved population is being given the chance to say, “I think I can,” and better their lives through education.