There’s no denying it: college education for prisoners works. When prisoners take undergraduate correspondence programs, their chances for success improve, and repeat offenses are less likely.
While politicians and the American public can argue whether or not prisoners should be afforded the privilege of higher education behind bars, all agree that college programs in prisons work, and remarkably so.
A two-year associate degree will open doors to a career. Even more beneficial is a four-year bachelor’s degree. And, obviously, you must first earn your bachelor’s degree if you have your sights set on a graduate degree.
You have your choice of many schools that provide undergraduate level studies.
Since prisons generally don’t offer college courses, prisoners must go elsewhere to fill this need. These courses must also be paid for.
We have said it before, and we say it again: the first thing you must find out when considering any school is if they are accredited and by which agency. This assures you of quality and allows your course credits to be transferred to other institutions if you decide to finish your studies somewhere else.
Only if you can be sure you will never transfer elsewhere and you will not pursue a more advanced degree should you consider enrolling in a school that is not regionally accredited. If you can, stick with a regionally accredited school. That way your options are always open as your plans evolve.
If offered through a regionally accredited school, these courses are the equivalent of college courses taken at any community college or university. The prisoner receives a study guide (which contains assignments), book, and exam request forms all via U.S. Mail. As they complete their course by mailing in lessons, they eventually submit exam requests, which trigger the examination(s) to be sent to an Education Department official who then proctors exams. Upon completion of each course, they earn college credit. Just like in regular college they can then earn an entire degree by fulfilling the degree requirements.
Prisoners can earn degrees in a number of areas. Whereas colleges and universities outside of prison offer a large number of course and degree options, those available via correspondence education are much more limited. This is why it’s important for incarcerated students to enroll in a college correspondence program that offers the degree that they are looking for. It should be noted that all that is required to enroll is a high school diploma or GED, college correspondence programs waive SAT, GRE, and competitive application requirements for incarcerated students.
Most important, when selecting an undergraduate program, look at what degrees and courses are offered. Find a school that offers the degree you want and the courses required to earn that degree. Don’t take this for granted. Just because a school allows you to earn a certain degree does not mean they provide all the prerequisite courses. If they do offer the required courses, make sure they are in a format acceptable in the prison environment … that it is entirely paper-based, has no residency requirement, requires no field trips or lab work, etc.
Review the school’s catalog or ask a school advisor if they offer all the required courses and the format for each course. You might have to do some investigating; the staff at the school might not know what is and isn’t allowed within a prison facility.
If you are tempted to enroll in a school outside the US, be careful and ask questions before you register. Problems can abound with receiving your course materials or with transferring credits to a US school. You might have to involve a credit evaluation agency, and some are expensive. You must also find out if their courses are appropriate to the prison environment. Take responsibility for asking the right questions and being thorough.
In an effort to help as many of our readers as possible, we have compiled profiles of over 35 college correspondence programs that allow prisoners to enroll. But first, how to select a program.
Recommended Undergraduate Programs
In an effort to help point incarcerated students — and their family members and friends helping them — in the right direction, we at the Zoukis Consulting Group have put together the following list of correspondence programs that we recommend. These are all a cut above the rest and can be emphatically trusted.
Out of all of these, our recommendation of Adams State University is the strongest. We love Adam State University’s correspondence program and have come to refer many incarcerated students to them. In fact, Zoukis Consulting Group’s founder Christopher Zoukis earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Adams State University.
Adams State University offers a number of associate and bachelor’s degrees, and Tuition fees are in the below-average range. In addition, they waive the application fee for incarcerated students. Having a number of incarcerated students currently enrolled, they are accustomed to the restrictions involved with educating prisoners. They offer a free, unofficial credit evaluation service. Whether or not you enroll at Adams State University, you can send them documentation of your prior learning or previously earned credits, and they will tell you how many of those credits qualify for transfer. This is our favorite school at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Louisiana State University does not confer degrees by correspondence but offers individual courses and certificate programs. However, the $182 fee per credit hour is below average. And since they are regionally accredited, this is a good place to earn maximum credits that will be accepted by a more expensive, degree-granting institution. This could significantly reduce the cost of a degree.
Ohio University is regionally accredited, they have a program specifically tailored for the incarcerated (Ohio University Correctional Education), and they confer both associate and bachelor’s degrees. Tuition is in the above-average range, and textbooks and all other fees are included in the flat fee. Ohio University is unusual in allowing a free 4-month extension per course.
Having personally taken several courses through Ohio University, I found it to be a quality distance education program. The material was challenging, the instructors knowledgeable and fair, and the overall experience was great. The only negative component concerns its customer service. I found my interactions with my academic advisor to be less than ideal.
Rio Salado College offers a program tailored specifically for the incarcerated. They are regionally accredited, offer certificates and associate degrees, and a number of other courses relevant to prisoners (e.g., chemical dependency, counseling, and personal development, workforce reentry, etc.). They provide a textbook buy-back program, below-average Tuition, an honors program, and the option of taking accelerated courses. Among the degrees offered is a degree in chemical dependency and a degree in workforce development and community reentry.
Thomas Edison State College, a regionally accredited institution, is unique because it allows you to transfer enough credit hours (120) to earn a degree based solely upon transfer credit. Thomas Edison State College offers a number of credit-transfer and other options for earning a degree without taking courses. Their special examination program awards credit for the ability to pass an exam with previously obtained knowledge. They offer a number of associate and bachelor’s degrees at low annual fees ($5,840 to $6,720 per year). Thomas Edison State College is an excellent school for students who have accumulated credits from a number of sources or for those who have knowledge without course credits.
The University of North Carolina does not have a degree program by correspondence. However, they are regionally accredited and they allow you to take courses from various North Carolina state schools including UNC-Chapel Hill. Their courses earn credits that can be applied to a degree if the student transfers to another school. Of particular interest is that this university was offering courses free to prisoners in North Carolina. They also have a textbook buy-back program. However, the free program was not active in 2013 due to state budget cuts and is currently pending budgetary decisions.
Upper Iowa University is another exceptional institution. They are regionally accredited and offer a wide range of courses, certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor’s degrees.
California Coast University is not regionally accredited. They were recommended earlier for graduate-level studies because there are so few viable graduate programs. However, even though their degrees have been recognized in both the private and government sectors, exercise caution at the undergraduate level. The advantages are the number of associate and bachelor’s degrees on offer, a payment plan of $100 per month, quality courses, below-average Tuition rates, and a textbook buy-back program. They also provide a set list of courses you need to take for any given degree to reduce confusion about degree requirements.
Undergraduate Correspondence Programs for Prisoners
- Adams State University
- Ashworth College
- Athabasca University
- Brigham Young University
- California Coast University
- California Miramar University
- Colorado State University
- Colorado State University at Pueblo
- Huntington College of Health Sciences
- Louisiana State University
- Murray State University
- Ohio University
- Oklahoma State University
- Rio Salado College
- Sam Houston State University
- Seattle Central Community College
- Southwest University
- Texas State University
- Thomas Edison State
- Thompson Rivers University
- University of Central Arkansas
- University of Idaho
- University of Minnesota
- University of Mississippi
- University of North Carolina
- University of Northern Iowa
- University of Saskatchewan
- University of South Dakota
- University of Wisconsin
- University of Wisconsin-Platteville
- University of Wyoming
- Wesleyan Center for Prison Education
The three primary factors which should be taken into consideration are:
- Accreditation: When possible, take an accredited course. Accreditation acts like a seal of approval and an assurance of quality, not to mention an assurance of course transferability. In the United States, there are six regional accreditation agencies. Every state and community college is accredited by one of these six accreditation agencies, which cover different geographic regions in the United States:
- Correspondence courses that are available in paper form. Distance learning is available in two forms: web-based and paper-based. Web-based courses are distance learning courses that require internet access. While the student might have a textbook, access to an online course platform is required. Web-based programs are not accessible to prisoners because prisoners lack internet access. Prisoners can only enroll in courses that can be completed entirely through the U.S. Mail, and the courses can’t have media components (e.g., DVDs, CDs, VHS Tapes, etc).
- Pick programs that offer various courses that lead to a degree. For the most part, students want to enroll in a program that has a significant number of correspondence courses, and these courses should lead to a degree, which the school offers via correspondence. Some correspondence schools offer courses and degrees but not all of the courses required to fulfill degree requirements. It’s important to ask about this prior to enrolling and investing their time and money into a program that won’t fulfill all their needs.