Unlocking Potential: Distance Degree Program at Madison Correctional Institution


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Some inmates in Ohio's prison system are getting an education from The University of Akron (UA) thanks to a partnership with Ohio Penal Industries (OPI) in the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The OPI program seeks to reduce recidivism by enabling incarcerated adults to acquire real life skills and experience that makes them better prepared to maintain employment after they are released.

UA is providing courses towards a path to earn an associate degree for incarcerated adults at Madison Correctional Institution in London, OH. The university delivers the classes, which are paid for by the state. But unlike other classes, these are entirely off-site and online because rules prevent inmates from mixing with the public while they are still serving their sentences.

The cohort is 24 students at the correctional facility, all working towards their Associate of Technical Studies. The degree is offered in collaboration between the College of Engineering and Polymer Science (CEPS) and the Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences (BCAS) and will include general education along with coursework from two technical areas: polymer manufacturing and organizational supervision. Their coursework will be transferable if they eventually decide to pursue a bachelor's degree.

The cohort begin in the summer of 2023 with a class – “Introduction to Public Speaking” – taught by faculty in BCAS. Launching the program were two faculty members in the BCAS School of Communication: Dr. Amber Ferris and Dr. Mary Triece.

“It was absolutely one of the best teaching experiences I’ve ever had,” declared Triece. “The students were hard working, dedicated, and truly cared about learning. They were smart and thoughtful with their work.  I was delighted to get to meet with them live on Teams to communicate with them and hear their speeches. They shared a good deal of their experiences, which just reinforced my belief in de-incarceration, particularly for nonviolent offenses. These students have so much to contribute their communities."

Triece added, “I am deeply dedicated to teaching people in correctional facilities, and I hope to be able to help expand this program so that we can reach more students.”

Ferris remarked, "I really enjoyed getting to know them throughout the semester and listening to their speeches. You can learn a lot about a student based on the topics they choose to speak about. It was really important to be supportive in that first speech to ease their fears and to let them know we were there for them. I feel like after that speech, we had a good rapport going and that helped the class be successful."

Flexibility in course delivery was instrumental in reaching this new audience effectively.

Ferris and Triece were working hand in hand with Patrick Tabatcher in Online Learning Services and Wendy Lampner, UA’s director of Online, Continuing, and Professional Education, who praised our faculty.

“Amber and Mary were discovering and resolving issues well past the eleventh hour,” remarked Lampner. “They gracefully embraced numerous last-minute changes to the course start date and adjusting their syllabus multiple times to accommodate evolving needs. Amber and Mary demonstrated unwavering availability and were always willing to engage in discussions and collaborate on solutions to ensure the success of the program.”

“The feedback we've received from the prison has been overwhelmingly positive. The students enjoyed the class and felt supported in their learning,” Lapner explained.

What class are the students enrolled in next? For Fall 2023, it's a BCAS course in Pan-Africa Studies, “Diversity in American Society,” and the Spring 2024 semester will see students take "Human Relations" in the School of Social Work and Family Sciences in the College of Health and Human Services.

  • Story by BCAS Marketing