WASHINGTON - Raritan Valley Community College President Michael J. McDonough was at the White House yesterday helping the Obama administration launch the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge.
McDonough was part of a select group of college and university leaders that participated in a roundtable discussion in the Roosevelt Room of the White House’s West Wing.
The Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge focuses on offering higher education opportunities for people who have been in the criminal justice system. RVCC was selected for the White House event, hosted by Education Secretary John King and Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz, because of its participation as a partner in the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons (NJ-STEP) program.
NJ-STEP is a consortium that provides higher education courses toward a college degree for people while they are incarcerated.
“Raritan Valley Community College is especially proud to applaud and to support the White House Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge," McDonough said. "As a mission-driven college of opportunity, RVCC believes in the transformative power of education. In providing incarcerated students with a dynamic and innovative learning environment, in offering students the opportunity to earn an Associate Degree, and in building a seamless transition into a four-year college," he added.
"We help to create that ‘pathway for a second chance. We are honored to include these remarkable graduates as our alumni and as our most persuasive and eloquent examples of success,” he said.
Since 2009, RVCC faculty members have been teaching credit courses at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton. The college held its first graduation at a correctional facility in October 2014, when 14 Edna Mahan inmates received their Associate Degrees from RVCC.
During the 2015-2016 academic year, RVCC completed a new Memorandum of Understanding agreement with NJ-STEP to expand its degree offerings to seven New Jersey prisons. The college offered 90 courses inside these seven prisons during the spring and summer 2016 semesters, educating hundreds of students.
In addition to RVCC, the higher education institutions joining the Obama administration in launching the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge included: Ancilla College, Arizona State University, Auburn University, Boston University, City University of New York, College of Saint Benedict, Columbia University, Eastern University, Howard University, New York University, North Park University, Nyack College, Rutgers University (Biomedical and Health Sciences, Camden, Newark and New Brunswick), Saint John’s University, San Francisco State University, State University of New York, Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, University of California System, University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, University of Puget Sound, and University of Washington.
Together, these 25 institutions represent and serve more than one million students.
The Obama administration has been committed to reforming America's criminal justice system and expanding college opportunity, according to a White House spokesman. In July 2015, Obama highlighted the importance of reducing barriers facing people who have been in contact with the criminal justice system and are trying to put their lives back on track.
He emphasized that a smarter approach to reducing crime and enhancing public safety begins with investing in our communities. Right now, there are 2.2 million Americans behind bars, and more than 600,000 inmates are released each year. An estimated 70 million or more Americans have some sort of criminal record – almost one in five of all Americans, and almost one in three Americans of working age.
A criminal record often disqualifies Americans from being full participants in society – even after they’ve already paid their debt to society, according to the White House.
This includes admissions processes for educational institutions that can make it difficult if not impossible for those with criminal records to get an education that can lead to a job.
“That's bad for not only those individuals, it's bad for our economy. It’s bad for the communities that desperately need more role models who are gainfully employed. So we’ve got to make sure Americans who’ve paid their debt to society can earn their second chance,” Obama said.
By signing the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge, these higher education institutions are:
- Demonstrating an ongoing commitment to take action to reduce barriers to a fair shot at a second chance, especially though an educational opportunity, including adopting fair chance admissions practices like going “Beyond the Box” by determining whether criminal justice-related questions are necessary to make an informed admission decision, and if so, whether these questions should be moved to a later part of the application process (e.g., after schools make an initial admission decision or after students meet the academic criteria), or whether the initial review of the application can be conducted without knowledge of the answers to the criminal-justice related questions;
- Taking action in their local communities by supporting professors and students who want to teach or are teaching in correctional facilities and ensuring internships and job training are available to individuals with criminal records.
- Setting an example for their peers. The Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge is available for more higher education institutions to sign. The Obama Administration will highlight these additional pledge takers later this year.
Last month the Department of Education released The “Beyond the Box” Resource Guide. The Guide provides information for colleges and universities to help remove barriers that can prevent citizens with criminal records from pursuing higher education. The guide also encourages alternatives to inquiring about criminal histories during college admissions and provides recommendations to support a holistic review of applicants. For more information, click here or visit http://www.ed.gov/beyondthebox/.
Earlier this year, the White House launched the Fair Chance Business Pledge, a call-to-action for all members of the private sector to improve their communities by eliminating barriers in employment for those with a criminal record and creating a pathway for a second chance. More than 100 organizations have joined the pledge, including: American Airlines, The Coca-Cola Company, Facebook, Georgia Pacific, Google, The Hershey Company, The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, Koch Industries, PepsiCo, Prudential, Starbucks, Uber, Under Amour/Plank Industries, Unilever and Xerox.
Raritan Valley Community College’s main campus is located at 118 Lamington Road in Branchburg.