Tulsa Community College set a corrections education program graduation record this year, and that brought a Trump cabinet official to Hominy.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos attended the commencement ceremony in Dick Conner Correctional Center's chapel on Tuesday. The more than 70 graduates there earned 66 certifications and 13 associate’s degrees in all.
TCC credits Second Chance Pell Grants for the high numbers. DeVos said 64 institutions offer need-based, federal student aid to incarcerated people.
"We are renewing some of the pilot programs and expanding that, but they’re all still considered experimental. Congress has to authorize making it a permanent expansion," DeVos said.
TCC President Leigh Goodson said higher education can cut the recidivism rate from one in four inmates to one in 20.
"It’s good policy all the way around in addition to being the right thing to do when we’re trying to help people rehabilitate their lives and go back and contribute to society and be a better citizen," Goodson said.
Graduate Najee Fulson said earning his associate degree has made him a different person than the man locked up for armed robbery almost 20 years ago.
"Focused now, I have responsibility, I understand my value as far as what I can accomplish for myself," Fulson said.
Fulson said he hopes his 60-year sentence may be reduced one day. He hopes to earn his bachelor's degree in rehabilitative services from Langston University.
Dick Conner Correctional Center officials said in three years, the number of inmates in college there has grown from fewer than 20 to 135.
During Tuesday's commencement, prison officials also recognized 18 inmates who earned their high school equivalency degrees and 22 who earned honors in Langston University coursework.