Is There Life After CLEP? (Part 1)

by Bruce Micheals

Since 1994, the College Level examination program (CLEP) has been one of the best options for incarcerated students to accrue transferable college credits, but that will change as of 2012 when CLEP will no longer be available in paper an:1 pencil format. According to Mary Hoag, school principal at Lakeland Correctional Facility, the College Board (the company that provides CLEP) will be using a digital format which is unavailable to most prisoners. "Students have until October 1, 2011, to pay for the CLEP exams they want and until December 31, 2011, to complete the exams. After that, CLEP exams will only be available by computer," said Hoag in b late summer meeting with this writer.

Robert Coleman, a paroled member of the Lakeland college program, describes CLEP fondly: "CLEP gave students like me a chance to earn college credits inexpensively. I'd study textbooks in the prison library and then save up a S120 to take a test. No assignments, no special textbooks, just one 90 minute test. CLEP was the best thing to happen to education in prison since the Pell Grants." Coleman goes on to note how CLEP helped shape his study habits, "A half dozen of us prisoners would meet in the library six days per week—twice on Saturdays—to study sociology in preparation for the sociology CLEP exam. Those months made an indelible impression on me because I knew it was a pass or fail situation, so T studied hard, and I developed good study habits that have stayed with me as a student on parole at Wayne County Community College."

Perhaps the greatest advocate for CLEP in orison is Thomas G. Lee, librarian at Ojibway Correctional Facility, who specializes in helping prisoners turn their lives around through education and vocational trades. According to Lee, "I'm currently running seven self-study programs in which prisoners do the teaching and Day for most of the costs...and the success rate is nearly 100 percent....When you look around our library on any given day you might see one group studying college algebra, and yet another in the midst of a lengthy discussion of the principles of business management" (Frazier, 2011, p. 12). Though losing CLEP is certain, some alternatives are offered in a pamphlet by Lee and his CLEP tutors titled "Back to College for Prisoners."

Depending on a prison's location, it might be possible for a nearby junior college that is a CLEP Test Center, to come into a prison with a few laptop computers to do CLEP testing. This would greatly lower the cost and provide college opportunity to more prisoners.

Another possibility for prisoners to obtain college credit is by taking Advance Placement Tests, also administered by the College Board. These tests are more difficult and are only offered one time a year in May.

At Ojibway Correctional Facility we have 17 prisoners scheduled for AP testing in May, 2011. As far as we can determine, they are the first prisoners to do AP tests in the United States (3).