In a recent letter from Brigham Young University (BYU), university officials acknowledged that they have ceased all paper-based correspondence courses. This is a blow to incarcerated students country-wide considering that BYU, while never offering a degree program to incarcerated students, did offer a significant number of high-quality paper-based courses which those in prison could complete. These included high school, college, and personal development courses. I, for one, am sorry to see them go as I have even recommended BYU in my book, Education Behind Bars: A Win-Win Strategy for Maximum Security. This is a most unfortunate development.
The BYU letter reads, in part, as follows: “Thank you for your interest in our BYU Independent Study program. Due to changes and upgrades to our course delivery system, we are no longer offering university courses in a paper format. Students enrolling in our university courses must have access to a computer and the internet. . . If your institution supports having internet access . . . [y]ou may enroll with the enclosed enrollment form via mail, online, or over the phone. . . We do not offer any degrees or certificate programs through Independent Study to students who have not already completed 30 credits on BYU campus. We do offer courses that can be transferred to other Universities with approval from that University. . . We hope that your educational goals will be realized and commend you for your desire to grow academically. If you have further questions, please let me know as I am happy to answer them.”
Sadly, this is not a surprise as a significant number of colleges are transitioning from a paper-based to online-only course format. This makes sense considering that the majority of their free-world students prefer to take their courses via the Internet. And, from the university’s perspective, online courseware is significantly less expensive than paper-based materials, and that online courses tend to be more interactive, engaging, and faster paced.
While it’s hard to blame an institution of higher education for changing course formats to better fulfill their mission and the needs of the majority of their students, I am sad to see yet another paper-based course program go without a discussion of responsibility to those less fortunate. I know that incarcerated students are not high on any college’s list of priorities, but it would be nice for college administrators to acknowledge this diverse demographic and reach out to them. In the past seven years I have seen a significant number of colleges and universities close their doors to incarcerated students via changing their course methodologies. In the past three years alone, I have seen 15 to 20 programs that once offered paper-based courses change their method of course delivery to online courses. I fear that this might be the wave of the future. Incarcerated students might one day no longer have a viable avenue to further their education. And what a travesty that would be.