Hudson County Community College’s Academic and Workforce Pathway Program Offers New Hope and Fresh Starts for Incarcerated Students

October 3, 2022


Pictured here, Joseph Wise, a participant in the Hudson County Community College Academic and Workforce Pathway Program.

Pictured here, Joseph Wise, a participant in the Hudson County Community College Academic and Workforce Pathway Program.

October 3, 2022, Jersey City, NJ – In the film, Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams’ character, teacher John Keating, tells his students, “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

Never were those words truer than in the case of Joseph Wise, and Hudson County Community College’s (HCCC) Academic and Workforce Pathway Program (AWPP). 

Joseph Wise is a 48-year-old, lifelong Jersey City resident who is now in his third semester of studies at HCCC. He began his higher education journey in AWPP in September 2021 while incarcerated at Hudson County Correctional Center. 

Mr. Wise stated that he has spent his whole life in and out of institutions and battling substance abuse. He said that shortly after starting AWPP, HCCC’s Associate Vice President for Continuing Education and Workforce Development, Lori Margolin, called him “a scholar.”

“No one ever called me a scholar before,” Mr. Wise said. “It made me think. It made me realize that my mind was more locked up than my body.” It also made Wise come to the realization that classes got his mind off jail, and that education was the only way to stay out of institutions.  “I decided: I did jail, now do education,” he said.

AWPP is the result of a partnership between Hudson County Community College, the Hudson County Correctional Center, and the Hudson County Department of Housing and Community Reintegration. The program is made possible by a $450,000 grant to HCCC from Hudson County. It is one of just a handful of such programs in the United States that offer virtual degree and workforce training in a county correctional facility.

All too often, incarcerated men and women are not given the tools to return to society without encountering poverty, violence, unemployment, and dependency – the same conditions that led to their incarceration. Data indicate that the unemployment rate of previously incarcerated men and women is five times higher than that of the general population, and 70% of children with incarcerated parents develop criminal records as well. 

“The most effective programs to combat recidivism are those that begin prior to release, include education and/or job training programs, and provide ongoing support – elements that are incorporated into AWPP, said HCCC President Dr. Christopher Reber. “Programs like this are essential and transformational, and the men and women who participate are extraordinarily inspirational.” 

Ms. Margolin, and HCCC Dean of Academic Affairs and Assessment Dr. Heather DeVries, worked with Hudson County Department of Housing and Community Reintegration Director Frank Mazza and the Hudson County Correctional Center to institute the program, which offers participants a choice of a degree or workforce path. When it began last fall, the program was offered only to men, and this summer women were included. Today, there are 44 scholars in the AWPP, for a total of 122 students enrolled since the program began.

Program participants must meet all HCCC academic requirements. Classes are held in the jail’s Law Library. In addition to providing classes, HCCC partner Women Rising, Inc. conducts financial literacy and life skills sessions, and to promote equity, the College ensures that incarcerated students receive the same academic coaching and assistance as other HCCC students.

Mr. Wise said that he was also battling substance abuse, and one of his professors gave him a list of meetings to attend. Now on probation with Recovery Court, he is taking classes on campus at HCCC as an EOF (Educational Opportunity Fund) student, receiving counseling, tutoring, financial assistance, and the support of faculty and academic counselors, especially HCCC EOF Director Jose Lowe and his staff. 

After graduating from HCCC with his Associate of Science degree in Human Services/Pre-Social Work, Mr. Wise plans on transferring to Rutgers University School of Social Work. Eventually he wants to work with adolescents in a treatment facility so he can help prevent young people from going through some of the challenges he has experienced.

“This is a really good program with people who are great inspirations to me,” Mr. Wise stated. “Everyone in the program is pushing to help me do what I need to do to succeed, and I am going to do that.”