Long has the battle of how to cost-effectively educate the incarcerated waged on. On one side of the post-secondary correctional education debate, there are those who prefer to focus upon vocational training for those in prison. Supporters say job training is what is needed.

On the other side of the post-secondary correctional education debate, there are those who prefer to focus upon academic education for the incarcerated. Supporters say an academic liberal arts education will allow participants to learn how to think.

While both sides present valid arguments, I ask, why not both?

In the September 23, 2011, issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, an online provider of college-level courses is presented. This educational provider is StraighterLine.com and are they making waves in the higher education industry.

Currently, StraighterLine.com offers around two dozen introductory-level online college courses. These courses include staples such as English composition and even more advanced courses such as calculus. What makes StraighterLine.com so appealing isn’t their online modality — as others offer online courses, too — but their fees .

According to the article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, StraighterLine.com offers enrollments at $99 plus $39 per course. These courses, while not regionally accredited, are approved by the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service; approval which should ensure credit transferability to most colleges in the United States. Plus, the materials utilized are all McGraw Hill — hence, top-notch.

(NOTE: Only schools which offer degrees can be accredited by a regional accreditation agency. Hence, the absence of regional accreditation is not a cause for concern here.)

StraighterLine.com is projected to “serve as many as 4,000 students this year, four times as many as last year,” according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. This in itself shows how well the company is doing and how well they are being received by students.

Even more astounding than StraighterLine.com’s growth rate and low costs are the savings afforded over traditional universities. As The Chronicle of Higher Education reports, “…traditional colleges’ revenue per student can be $2,000, and their (StraighterLine.com’s) cost per student [is] $100.” My own studies at Ohio University run me around $750 per correspondence course; a significant amount compared to StraighterLine.com’s fees.

While I’ve never participated in any of StraighterLine.com’s courses, the idea that a reputable college-level course could cost less than $139 is certainly encouraging. At this rate, an entire year of studies — 10 courses — would cost less than $1,400; less than the cost of two Ohio University correspondence courses.

Considering how profitable governmental contracts can be to outside contractors, one would have to assume that StraighterLine.com would jump at the opportunity to provide academic college-level courses for those incarcerated in the Federal Bureau of Prisons and state prison systems. They would simply need to utilize a secured internet connection such as New Mexico State Prison utilizes with their college-level computer-based correctional education program.

As you can see, private educational providers could reduce the cost of post-secondary academic correctional education to within the reach of any prison system. All that would be needed is an innovative spirit and a simple cost-effective analysis. With a little effort the problem of finding low-cost, high-quality educational programming can easily be solved. Hence, the academic portion of the debate can be solved in a low-cost manner. With a little motivation, I’m sure StraighterLine.com would gladly create high-quality, low-cost vocational courses, too.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

Leave a Comment