Excelsior College Shuts Its Doors to the Incarcerated

I'm sad to inform you that yet another giant has fallen in the realm of correspondence correctional education. Following Brigham Young University’s example, Excelsior College has discontinued all of its paper-based coursework and examinations as of September 30, 2011.

In response to one of my letters, Excelsior College noted "I regret to inform you that Excelsior College will no longer be administering credit by examination through paper & pencil format effective September 30, 2011. The only way to take an Excelsior College exam will be through a Pearson Vue Testing Center. Due to the fact that incarcerated students do not have access to a Pearson Vue Testing Center we will no longer be able to offer you the option to earn credit here at Excelsior College."

While pro forma in nature, at least they ended with a kind, yet unsigned, salutation: "We wish you success in your educational pursuits."

As a prison education advocate I am saddened by this loss. While Excelsior College didn't have as large of an impact as say Brigham Young University, they offered a total of 14 paper-based exams which were comparable to the CLEP Examinations. So, they were a viable source for testing out and evaluating prior learning not earned in a college setting.

While I doubt the needs of the incarcerated factored into the discussion to cease paper-based examinations, I can understand that the logical - and even smart - method is to leave archaic devices (i.e. paper-based courses) by the wayside in favor of more technologically sound and cost-effective methods.

Though, with this being said, I would have hoped for more. Incarcerated students are a disenfranchised group lacking the right to vote, the funds to influence, or even the visibility to matter to most. Maybe one day colleges will make decisions based upon the good of their students - and their most economically disadvantaged ones in particular - not the ease of internet-based or in-person learning.

Don't mistake my thoughts here. I'm not saying that an outdated model is the correct one for all, but that it is the only one for the 2.3 million incarcerated Americans. To us there is no Pearson Vue Testing Center. For us there is no local community college or Pell Grant funding. There is no Stafford Loan and usually mom and dad can't afford to send us to college. I just wish there was a better option than cutting off the limb on which incarcerated students stand.

I suppose that for now I will place my faith in socially responsible institutions - from the incarcerated student's perspective that is - such as Upper Iowa University, Rio Salado College, and Ohio University.