AU correctional education program continues to grow

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Retrieved from: Ashland University

Correctional education graduation ceremony.

Mason Savoia

Ashland University’s Correctional Education Program has continued to grow steadily in enrollment numbers from the day it was established in 1964. The program, which allows for incarcerated individuals to learn from inside correctional facilities, has broadened its scope from Ohio and now is used in 100 facilities in 13 states.

The desire for this kind of program has grown recently, with upwards of 4,000 students enrolled online, according to Denise Justice, executive director of correctional education operations.

According to the fall census enrollment numbers of 2019, AU had around 2,470 students enrolled in the Prison Outreach program —this, compared to 2020’s number of 3,518, is showing  that the program continues to experience continuous growth.

Justice said that the program has adjusted well to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’ve been involved at Ashland and the DRC site at the time when we first started bringing in [correctional] education into Ohio. If we’re used to face-to-face classes then we have to do one online, it’s a bit of a learning curve.” Justice said. “We were already entirely online.” 

Because of  the preexisting structure of AU’s Correctional Education Program, more sites and facilities are able to be opened up over time. New staff is hired for the influx of new students and sites created typically.

“Because of the way that our program is designed, because it’s the online format, we hire site directors to each site whose job is to fill in the pieces-parts students need to get enrolled,” Justice said. “It’s not more difficult because of its design. As long as we have this framework, we know about this, that, and the other. It’s really no big deal. That’s why we’re so flexible.” 

Even with this flexibility, however, the program is not looking to expand this semester or the next.

“We always have plans to add states or facilities to existing states,” Justice said “Right at this point in time, we are not doing expansion in the summer. That’s kind of more [in the] timeline later on.” 

There is consideration for potential expansion in the 2021 fall semester.

Otherwise, AU’s Correctional Education Program is ready to add more to the educational process for those enrolled through the sites. This includes upgrades to the courses inmates can take, as well as the tools and devices they may use to broaden their education.

“Every semester we make little tweaks to our processes like the rest of campus,” Justice said. “We have some new things coming on. New slate or software or even planners.”

“Some of the things being implemented in Ashland as a whole are going to be improvements in our program too. We want to take a look at retention and enrollment. As we have more bells and whistles, we have more that we can do.”