As the cost of higher education continues to rise and student debt spirals out of control, more people have started to question whether college is the right choice for them. While the cost can seem limiting, the data still shows how important such a degree is to success. According to recent numbers, people with a college degree earn substantially more than their peers. This empowering reality is even more important for potential students who are currently in prison. This population has increasing difficulty finding meaningful work after release. Lack of access to meaningful work is the highest reason for reoffense of all crimes.
Schooling Options for Current Inmates
There are a number of schooling options currently in place for inmates. Some of these programs focus on very basic education, providing literacy, or vocational or trade school degrees. Prisoners have access to GED programs, and there are some onsite programs that give inmates access to college coursework. However, students should never limit themselves to these options. Inmates can also pursue educational programs of their own choosing. This is possible through correspondence programs and online schools. Correspondence programs are conducted through the mail. Online programs, on the other hand, use the Internet to stay in contact. Inmates are not legally restricted from participating in these programs.
The Advantage of an Online School
There are several reasons why online schools are such a powerful option for inmates. For one thing, an online school is flexible. Inmates have many time constraints, and their Internet access may be restricted. This can make it difficult to maintain a normal course load. Moreover, online education offers more opportunities. While onsite programs are useful, they are often limited in scope. With online education, inmates can choose programs that interest them. Students are always more likely to finish their degrees and perform well if the coursework is something that matters to them.
Most of all, online degree programs give inmates the chance to experience education like everyone else. Reports suggest that online education is becoming increasingly attractive to students from all backgrounds. More than 6.3 million students took an online class in 2016. These numbers are steadily rising. There is no legal reason why inmates should not be among them.
Education Empowers Inmates
There is ample evidence that supports the value of higher education for inmates. This is important because America has 2.3 million inmates. This is the largest prison population in the world. Worse, this population is severely at risk. Research shows that while 95 percent of inmates will be released to society, half will end up back in prison within three years. This staggering rate of recidivism is not without recourse. Education may well be a critical component in helping people become productive members of society once more.
Academic pursuits have shown documented improvements for inmates. There was a 2005 report that showed that inmates who completed college coursework had a recidivism rate that was reduced by 46 percent. Moreover, the level of education also matters. While earning a high school diploma can reduce recidivism by 20 percent, a college degree reduces it by an impressive 44 percent.
Higher Education Saves Money
The benefits of education are clear for inmates themselves. However, the advantages also extend to the rest of society. Some sections of the public balk at providing educational opportunities for inmates, citing the cost of such programs. The fact of the matter is that society pays a substantial price for repeat offenders. Since so many inmates end up back in prison within a short period of time, prison populations rarely get smaller. This keeps costs high for society.
In fact, some data shows that an investment in education will prevent more crimes than a general investment in incarceration. In this manner, education within the prison setting is almost twice as effective as incarceration alone. Moreover, higher education is correlated with higher paychecks, which means that prisoners who receive degrees are less likely to rely on public assistance after their release.
Historical Issues of Higher Education Access
Although there is some debate about whether or not to support higher education for inmates, this controversy is relatively modern. Historically, offering education to inmates was a favorable position. By 1930, most prisons in America had a robust education program. In 1967, inmates gained access to Pell Grants, which gave these potential students new access to better college programs. However, this all changed in the 1980s and 1990s. Progressive prison programs were rolled back, and access to Pell Grants for inmates was restricted. Higher education programs nearly vanished in prisons around the country. Despite these setbacks, modern inmates still have reason to hope.
What to Look for in a Higher Education Program
When an inmate wants to pursue a degree via online education, the experts suggest keeping a few guidelines in mind. First, it is important to find a school that is accredited. This simply means that the degrees offered by the school are recognized. There is certainly value in any educational pursuit, but accredited colleges make students more employable after graduation. Plus, these schools typically offer superior education to students. Also, look at the degree options and the pacing opportunities. Inmates often need more time to finish their degrees, which is why it is valuable to have some flexibility in the coursework timeline.
Finally, cost is always an issue. Online schools are often preferred because they cost less than traditional options, but the cost can still be prohibitive for most people in prison. Therefore, look carefully at the options. Some schools offer courses for as little as $500 a session. Choose an option that you can afford to finish. Although access to Pell Grants has diminished, it is worthwhile to consider various scholarship opportunities in order to increase your opportunities for success.
Maintaining the Worthwhile Struggle
Undoubtedly, inmates do face challenges when looking into an online school while in prison. However, there are ways to overcome these obstacles. The key is to remember that higher education is a tool that can empower inmates while improving society at large. Given these stark advantages, it is obvious that online degree programs can be an excellent choice for inmates.