Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Michael Jacobson

Committee Members

Thomas DeGloma

Paul Attewell

Christopher Beasley

Subject Categories

Criminology | Educational Sociology | Sociology


college, prison, class, education, transformation, Bourdieu


The United States has gone through two transformations in the meaning of higher education in prison and the value of access for people in prison in the last 50 years and is now moving towards a third. The establishment of Pell grants in 1972 allowed for widespread access to higher education in prison, while the removal of those grants in 1994 effectively ended access. Federal policy makers are now poised to restore access to Pell grants to a broad swath of people in prison (Green, 2019; Krieghbaum, April 22, 2019; Krieghbaum, October 11, 2019). In this paper, I interpret the meanings that 18 men and women attach to their experiences in college in prison in New York state using Pierre Bourdieu’s theories of habitus, capital, and symbolic revolution and the Interpretive Phenomenological Approach to qualitative research (Bourdieu, 1984; Bourdieu, 2017). These men and women, all now living in the community, look to college as a means to join the American middle class. Having gained this status for themselves, they seek a symbolic revolution: to break the cycle of incarceration and downward class mobility and to aid others in prison in rising to the middle class.