By Christopher Zoukis
In prisons across the country a GED is typically the highest level of academic achievement that is facilitated by the prison administration. The administration's focus, in terms of education, is almost exclusively upon how fast they can funnel their prison's population through their GED programs. It's a never-ending cycle that ends with each prisoner earning a GED and starts over with the next prisoner who has yet to earn one. While a good first step, it dooms many to failure. It does so by starting the prisoner on an academic tract, but stopping them upon attainment of the GED.
The single-minded focus of GED attainment creates a void for prison systems nationwide. This void is education above-and-beyond the GED. Some prisons offer Adult Basic Education or Adult Continuing Education (of which I am an instructor) courses, but rarely do any offer educational programs at the career or university level. This level of study, the credentialing level, is desperately needed by each and every prisoner because studies at this level translate directly into lower recidivism rates and jobs upon release.
For the prisoner who desires to advance their education above the level of studies offered by their prison there is only one option: correspondence courses. The basis of a correspondence course is that it is completed entirely through the mail. You start out by writing to a particular school that you wish to attend and ask them to send you a course catalog and any enrollment documents required for correspondence study. Upon receipt of the requested documents you'll want to read through everything very carefully to see if the school offers a program of study that you can enroll in and a program of study that you want to enroll in. You'll want to write several schools and compare what each sends you to find the school that is right for you.
A special note should be made about accreditation. To start, accreditation is essentially a statement or certification from an independent professional body that a particular school is of a high quality. All schools at the university and career level can be accredited, but the kind of accreditation agency can differ from undergraduate to career level. So, with the understanding that career level schools can be different, you should make sure that the school you select is accredited by one of the six regional accreditation agencies:
Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
New England Association of Schools and Colleges
North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
Western Association of Schools and Colleges
(Career level schools should be accredited by one of these six regional accreditation agencies, or if not, then at a bare minimum accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council.)
After you settle on a school you'll need to send in the enrollment forms along with any course selection and payments required. You'll also want to speak with your prison's Education Department, if your prison has one, to inquire as to any forms you might need to fill out at the prison prior to receiving correspondence courses. After the school receives the sent documents they will respond by mailing you a study guide, textbook, and any required course materials. The study guide will direct you to read certain portions of the textbook and to complete certain assignments. Upon completion of each assignment you will need to mail the completed assignment back to your school to be graded. Do make sure to keep copies of everything you send to your school. This is because things do get lost in the mail. You will repeat this process until you come to an examination or until the course is completed. If the course you are taking requires examinations you may need to have a staff member receive the examination directly from the school and proctor it.
A word here is needed on funding. College level correspondence courses can be very expensive. They can be so expensive that a prisoner couldn't hope to afford the cost of even one course unless they make several hundred dollars a month. So, you will probably need to ask family, friends, or maybe a local organization, such as a church or business, to help you pay for your studies. Over the years I have only come across one scholarship specifically for prisoners. This is the Dirk Van Velzen Scholarship which is awarded to select prisoners for undergraduate studies. It should be noted that an application is required and you can only request a few courses at a time. For more information, contact (make sure to enclose a self-addressed, stamped-envelope with your inquiry):
The Prison Scholar Fund
23517 Orville Road East
Orting, WA 98360
Studying inside prison can be a very challenging experience. Problems can abound from all sides. Guards, prisoners, and even the very environment you live in can prove to be a hinderance to your studies. But you can do it and the result is worth it. To obtain an education is to obtain new life. It is an advanced education that will facilitate both a new level of understanding and employment upon release. Simply stated, an education will vastly improve your life now and for years to come. It is worth it. You are worth it. So, get started!
Here is a listing of several good colleges and career schools that offer correspondence courses. Get started by writing each and requesting their course catalog and enrollment information:
Adams State College
208 Edgemont Blvd.
Alamosa, CO 81102
College Program for the Incarcerated
Haning Hall 222
Athens, OH 45701-2979
University of North Carolina
The Friday Center
Center for Continuing Education
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-1020
Upper Iowa University
External Degree Program
P.O. Box 1861
Fayette, IA 52142-1861
Blackstone Career Institute
P.O. Box 3717
Allentown, PA 18106
Berean School of the Bible
1211 South Glenstone Avenue
Springfield, MO 65804-0315
Moody Bible Institute
Moody Distance Learning
820 N. LaSalle Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60610
Penn Foster Career School
925 Oak Street
Scranton, PA 18515-0700
(Various Programs of Study)