Northeastern Illinois University / University Without Walls

With the support of a generous private foundation, Northeastern Illinois University’s University Without Walls (UWW) Program restarted the first bachelor’s degree-earning program in an Illinois state prison in decades. The UWW Program is a competency-based degree-completion program that serves adult students who have professional, community, political, and life experiences that have resulted in significant college-level learning. NEIU (which does not ask about criminal records on its admissions application) has been incredibly supportive of this initiative. The program started in the fall of 2017 with a cohort of eight to students. PNAP members Tim Barnett and Erica Meiners, both NEIU Faculty initiated the program with a UWW class at Stateville where students established an advisory team and developed portfolios of prior learning, learning goals, and a learning contract. Students graduated in May 2019 marking a pivotal milestone in Illinois for the advancement of educational programming behind bars. The graduation ceremony took place inside the prison’s gym and featured remarks by Angela Y. Davis, Professor Emeritus at University of California Santa Cruz, and Juliana Stratton, Lieutenant Governor of Illinois. The ceremony also featured a guest musical performance by Chancelor Bennett, popularly known as Chance the Rapper.

The collaboration between the UWW Program and PNAP offers graduates a one-of-a-kind educational experience where students’ extensive learning and skills outside of traditional classroom settings are recognized and where students work hand-in-hand alongside academic and community advisors to design individualized curricula.

See images and video from the graduation here: