Wesleyan Establishes New Bachelor of Liberal Studies Degree

Lauren RubensteinApril 26, 20205min
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Incarcerated students enrolled in Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education will be able to earn the newly-established Bachelor of Liberal Studies degree.

Wesleyan announced that it will now offer a part-time, non-residential undergraduate degree, the Bachelor of Liberal Studies (BLS). This provides a flexible, affordable path to earning a bachelor’s degree for students who meet Wesleyan’s admission standards but are unable to commit to living on campus for a variety of reasons.

The Office of Continuing Studies and the BLS Faculty Governing Board announced the BLS degree in an email to faculty and staff on April 9. Staff, as well as spouses and domestic partners of faculty and staff, who are interested in earning a bachelor’s degree, are encouraged to apply. The Human Resources website contains information on tuition benefits for eligible employees, spouses, and domestic partners.

The program is open to the general public and may be an attractive option for adult learners who hold a job or have family responsibilities. BLS students take courses on a per-credit basis, and normal completion time for the degree is within six years of matriculation.

In addition, the New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE), Wesleyan’s accrediting body, has approved the establishment of additional instructional locations at Cheshire and York correctional institutions, so that incarcerated students enrolled in Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education (CPE) will have an opportunity to earn BLS degrees.

“It’s been such an honor to be a part of the development of the BLS program at Wesleyan,” said Nicole Stanton, incoming provost and a member of the BLS faculty governing board. “With the approval of this new initiative, we will be able to make a Wesleyan education accessible to many more people, expand the critical work of our Center for Prison Education, and deepen our ties to our communities.”

According to Allie Cislo, CPE program manager, Wesleyan offers the only face-to-face degree-granting program in prison in the state of Connecticut at either the associate or bachelor’s level. Though nationally many other college-in-prison programs offer bachelor’s degrees, Wesleyan is the highest-ranked national liberal arts college, according to U.S. News & World Report, to offer a bachelor’s pathway to incarcerated students. CPE is one of only a few programs operating within both men’s and women’s institutions to offer this degree pathway through its innovative public-private partnership with Middlesex Community College.

The graduation requirements of CPE students are identical to those required of BLS students on the main campus—32 credits, at least 16 of which will be earned through Wesleyan courses. Courses offered at the prisons are vetted by a Faculty Advisory Committee to ensure the academic standards are consistent with those on the main Wesleyan campus. Students can choose from three area concentrations: Arts and Humanities, Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

“Since 2009, CPE’s incarcerated students have embodied the spirit of rigorous inquiry and excellence that characterizes a Wesleyan education,” said Cislo. “By implementing the BLS degree, we honor not only the extraordinary achievement of pursuing this credential behind bars, but we also celebrate the formal recognition of these students as members of the Wesleyan community. The BLS not only offers a meaningful goal for people to work toward while incarcerated, but it broadens professional opportunities available to them upon release.”