Wiley College is one of 68 colleges and universities in the nation to offer incarcerated inmates a chance at earning a degree or certification as part of the new federal program, the Second Chance Pell Grant.
The pilot program, which Wiley College Chief of Staff Charles Smith said on Tuesday is set to start no later than September 2017, will offer inmates a chance to be awarded a federal Second Chance Pell Grant that would fund in full their books and tuition as part of a degree or certification program.
"Wiley College is committed to the principle of educational access, and on our campus, we believe in second chances when people are equipped with the tools to succeed," Wiley College President Haywood Strickland said in a statement.
"Education is a powerful tool. It can alter the course of a life from one filled with negativity, crime and repeated mistakes to one filled with hope and fulfilled promises of positive change."
While different colleges in the pilot program have chosen to partner with their choice of prison institutions, Wiley College will partner with the following Louisiana prison systems: Madison Parish Detention Center, Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women St. Gabriel Unit and Winnfield Correctional Center.
Wiley College, one of three HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) to participate in the federal program, will offer three degree programs: Associate of Arts, Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Business Administration.
The college is set to accept about 300 inmate students through the program, Smith said.
A handful of the college's administrators, including Strickland traveled to Washington D.C. this week to get an overview of the program.
"Tuesday, they had a full day getting an overview of the program," Smith said. "They are getting the details from the U.S. Department of Education about the program's inception and what it hopes to achieve."
Smith said the purpose of the program is to reduce the recidivism rate of prisoners in the nation and allow them a means to obtain work after release.
"We want those people released from prison to get back into the labor market by providing them the education and skills needed to get a job," Smith said. "This will hopefully reduce the number of folks who go back into the prison system."
He said the college admissions requirements are the same for non-incarcerated students and the program will target those inmates who have a high school diploma, GED, transferrable college credits and who may be released in the next three to five years.
Smith said there have not yet been any stipulations set for the program denying eligibility based on the type of crime the inmate is serving time for.
He said the federal grant is set to cover about $5,800 annually per inmate student in books and tuition.
"This is a pilot program so they will be doing some assessments later on down the road to measure the impact of the program and see if the job placement rate of those released had an impact on the recidivism rate," he said.
Wiley College will monitor job placement twice a year for five years for all of its inmate graduates.
Smith said the college's advisors will visit with students to discuss degree plans and classes but the actual courses will be delivered to the students via an online portal on a tablet device.
"We will provide each student with a tablet to access the portal and do their assignments," he said. "We are working with a company to provide a locked portal online that will only allow students access to that particular academic course."
There are no plans as of yet to send the college's instructors to the prisons for face to face instruction, Smith said.
"If we see that is needed as we go along, that is something we can look in to," he said. "We are accredited by the SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) and must receive approval from them before implementing face to face instruction a the institutions.
"There are 2.2 million incarcerated people in the U.S.," Smith said. "The federal government has been asking, 'how do we reduce the recidivism rate and save tax payer dollars.' This is a program that is good for tax payers and the inmates and will hopefully keep them from returning to prison."
Through the federal program, more than 12,000 inmates at more than 140 prisons are set to participate.
Wiley College is one of nine colleges and universities in Texas to offer the program.
"Expanding educational opportunity for people who are incarcerated not only improves their lives, but strengthens our communities by preparing them to contribute to society rather than return to prison," Director of Vera's Center on Sentencing and Corrections Fred Patrick said. "We are thrilled that Wiley College is a partner in this important initiative to restore and expand access to college in prison."