Correspondence Correctional Education: An Informed Comparative Overview

 

By Christopher Zoukis

While many like to talk about correspondence correctional education as a viable option for individual incarcerated students, few understand the true costs associated with such education or the limitations involved. In an effort to bring the true costs and limitations to light, I present an analysis of 4 different regionally accredited college correspondence programs based upon my personal experience.

Correspondence Correctional Education Costs

Cost is often the paramount concern when selecting a correspondence correctional education program. While many profess that correspondence college courses cost "a few hundred dollars," few know exactly what the term "a few" really means. Let me share a few current examples.

OHIO UNIVERSITY: $199 per semester hour ($141 per quarter hour) plus books, supplies, and shipping. $564 in tuition per course. A recent English course I took cost $750 with everything included.

UPPER IOWA UNIVERSITY: $283 per semester hour plus books, supplies, and shipping. $849 in tuition per course.

RIO SALADO COLLEGE: $215 per semester hour plus books, supplies, and shipping. $645 in tuition per 3 semester hour course.

LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY: $148 per semester hour (additional administrative fees included) plus books, supplies, and shipping. $403 in tuition (additional administrative fees included) per 3 semester hour course.

AVERAGE TUITION RATE: $208.50 per semester hour

AVERAGE COURSE TUITION RATE: $615 per 3 semester hour course

*These rates don't include textbooks, materials, and shipping.*

As you can see from the previous cost-analysis, "a few hundred dollars" really means $615.25 plus books, supplies, and shipping if the inmate is to enroll in one of the 4 regionally accredited correspondence correctional education programs presented. To tell you the truth, I doubt that many people in the general public could afford costs such as these, much less an incarcerated student.

Inmate Funding

The other side of the issue is how much an inmate makes from their institutional job. After all, this is the only way in which they can support themselves outside of asking for funds from their family or friends.

Prepare yourself for what I'm about to say because it will positively shock you and throw out the window the idea that incarcerated students could ever afford college correspondence correctional education courses.

I make $5.25 a month for 4O recorded hours of work. This equals $63 a year for 480 recorded hours of work. From my institutional job, if I saved for a year I couldn't even afford to pay for one semester hour of tuition from any of the presented programs. Now, it should be noted that I don't work 40 hours a week. This is because so many persons are on my work detail that they rarely call for my shift to go to work. But, this is an economic limit nonetheless.

It should also be noted that other jobs are known to pay more. The majority of prisoners here at FCI-Petersburg make between $15 and $25 a month, with some of the top earners bringing in $100 or more a month. Though, it's not like a person can just ask for a $100-a-month job. One must position himself in the correct department then wait a few years for the top inmate in the department to leave in order to receive this kind of employment

Student Financial Aid

Another point which is often not understood by those discoursing on correspondence correctional education is the lack of financial aid eligibility for incarcerated students. Since 1994, incarcerated students have been restricted from receiving federal financial aid. This means that Pell Grants and student loans are not an option for these disenfranchised incarcerated students.

In my consulting, there is nothing more heartbreaking than having an incarcerated student come to me explaining that they are through with their old ways and want to go to college so they can get a job upon release, but be unable to afford the courses to do so. I really have nothing that I can say to these people.

The suggestions that I make are honest, but challenging and often met with limited success. I suggest they try the following potential sources of funding for their education:

Family and Friends

The Two Inmate Scholarship Programs I Know Of

Churches

Businesses

I advise them to keep on writing and requesting support. But, without a wealthy family or a lot of luck, they often meet failure.

If Pell Grants and other need-based financial assistance were available to these deserving incarcerated students, they would be able to obtain the education they need for success in life outside of prison.

Conclusion

The sad truth of the matter is that most prisons offer little in the form of college-level correctional education. This isn't so much the administration's fault as it is a fault of a culture in which prisoners are seen as less deserving. What is not seen or understood is that these incarcerated students desire to put their old ways behind them, but lack the funding to learn new ways to succeed. God willing, one day the eyes and ears of the American people will be opened and the tools needed to allow prisoners to succeed in life after prison will be allowed (and funded).