Prison Education Initiative hosts graduation, awards ceremonies

July 10, 2017

Jackson College’s Prison Education Initiative students continue to find success in college, completing college degrees and credentials, excelling in academics, and now, participating in Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society.

The College honored PEI students recently with graduation award ceremonies at four facilities — Gus Harrison facility in Adrian, and the Cotton, Parnall and Cooper Street facilities in Jackson. The ceremonies saw 18 students earn associate degrees; six earn certificates; and, 86 completed a Computer Services Technician Skill Set. There were 276 students recognized for making the Dean’s List for fall 2016 and/or winter 2017. On average, about 80 percent of the prison program students make the Dean’s List, recognizing those with a grade point average for the semester of 3.5 or higher. In addition, Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society inducted 48 students.

Phi Theta Kappa firsts 

These were the first-ever induction ceremonies for incarcerated students participating in Phi Theta Kappa. Earlier this year the Phi Theta Kappa Board of Directors opened membership to select students who are in prison or on probation. Dr. Dan Phelan, Jackson College president, serves on the PTK Board of Directors. He and Professor Martha Petry, Phi Theta Kappa chapter advisor, were instrumental in working for those changes.

“This provides both hope and opportunity for students who are vigilant and caring about their academic achievement and progress,” said Petry, who said she was touched by the thanks these new members gave her for advocating on their behalf. “They know the doors that membership can open for further education.”

PTK recognizes students’ academic performance. Members also have an opportunity for transfer scholarships to continue their education after parole. Those still incarcerated may participate in PTK College Projects, to make an impact in their current surroundings. Campus members, as a PTK campus Honors in Action project, are working to make all materials – which are currently available online only – available by print or other means, so incarcerated students, who do not have access to computers and the Internet, can benefit also.

“It was inspiring. This means so much to them, accomplishing something that most people thought they wouldn’t,” said Nicole Cossum-Ready, PTK chapter president.

Second Chances

Jackson College has offered education in the prisons since 2012 and currently educates about 575 inmates at 10 participating facilities. These opportunities allow students to find careers and employment when they are released, reducing their chances of returning to prison. A 2013 study from the RAND Corporation, funded by the Department of Justice, found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who did not participate in any correctional education programs.

Initially, students paid their own costs for taking the college classes, or benefited from grant monies. Some receive veteran G.I. Bill benefits. In 2016, Jackson College became one of 67 colleges across the country selected to participate in the Second Chance Pell pilot program. Many of these students began on self-pay, and have been “grandfathered” in with the Second Chance Pell funding. Students must meet certain eligibility requirements to participate.

“Many of these students do genuinely take this second chance element to heart,” said Lyndsey Adams, PEI operations specialist. “This gives them hope of a greater chance of staying out in the future. They take every opportunity. Most come from a world where people didn’t really think they could succeed. Here is a chance to gain back some self-esteem, while getting a valuable education.”