By Christopher Zoukis
In a welcome move, Governor Terry McAuliffe is making Virginia the only state to offer state prisoners college credit for five career and technical education courses recommended by ACE CREDIT – the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service.
Founded in 1918, ACE is the major co-ordinating body for all of the nation’s higher education institutions. The CREDIT program was established in 1974 to connect workplace learning and formal training taken outside of degree programs with colleges and universities by helping students gain access to academic credit for their efforts. The program helps align professional education with college courses, and can accelerate degree completion times.
Gov. McAuliffe’s announcement March 17 will hopefully pave the way for other states to move in the same direction and create meaningful change for prison education in the United States.
Students completing ACE courses submit an ACE transcript to their college or university for evaluation as potential transfer credit, with the higher education institution making a decision on whether to accept the credit or not. The process would be the same as when transferring credits from another higher learning institution.
The Virginia Department of Corrections already offers a wide range of educational opportunities, as demonstrated in 2012-2013 in which 1070 adult students completed vocational programs, 1,769 earned industry credentials, 101 completed apprenticeships, 1,093 earned GEDs and 1,727 earned Career Readiness Certificates.
Adding the ability to earn ACE CREDIT for five courses is another progressive step in meeting their mission to “provide high quality education programs that meet the individual needs of offenders and increase their success during incarceration and re-entry,” officials said in a statement.
The courses – Business Software Applications, Communicating Arts and Design, Drafting and CAD, Graphic Communication and Digital Print Production and Introduction to Computers – are designed to provide students with skills expected and desired by employers, increasing employability upon prisoner release, and reduce recidivism by ensuring offenders have the skills to gain meaningful employment and are able to support themselves and their families. Each of the five courses are existing classes that have been offered for the past two years, and have now been assessed by ACE, offering additional opportunities at minimal cost.
Offering the opportunity for further credit ensures that inmates are not just focusing on gaining immediate skills, but also focusing on a longer-term plan, considering further higher education and professional development, a sentiment echoed by the governor. “This new program will build on that success by helping inmates prepare for successful futures by getting a start on college education while they serve their time.”
Dr. Christofer Colville, education superintendent, said the five credentials will help offenders who attempt to re-enter society, and also that ‘we know from research that offenders who complete programs within our system are less likely to come back into the system.’ This approach to offering additional educational opportunities will continue to benefit everyone, as not only will offenders be able to support themselves through gainful employment, and acquire new and fulfilling skills, but also the wider community.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonLawBlog.com