By Christopher Zoukis


     A reader of my text, Education Behind Bars: A Win-Win Strategy for Maximum Security, recently notified me that the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) has ceased offering their paper-based examination option.  This means that CLEP testing is now technologically unavailable to virtually all incarcerated students, since most of these students lack access to internet connected computers or testing centers.

The letter from CLEP reads, in part: “Unfortunately, the College Board has decided to discontinue the paper and pencil testing program as of December 31, 2011 due to decreasing test-taker volumes and an increase in program maintenance costs. . . Since CLEP paper and pencil testing will be discontinued, you may want to investigate taking a correspondence course as an alternative solution to fulfill your educational goals. . . Once again, we at the College Board thank you for your interest in taking CLEP exams and we wish you the best of luck in your future educational endeavors.”

This is a very unfortunate action which, while not detrimental to incarcerated students’ academic success, will harm the few who could have utilized this option to lower the cost of a degree (since CLEP examinations are generally less expensive than traditional correspondence courses) and to speed up the process of obtaining a degree (since CLEP examinations take less time to complete than traditional correspondence courses).

The idea of utilizing CLEP testing in a correctional setting is a concept which Jon Marc Taylor, Ph.D., author of the Prisoners’ Guerrilla Handbook to Correspondence Programs in the United States and Canada, has long been an advocate for.  His suggestion, which is still valid today, is that students could band together, study for examinations such as CLEPs, take the examination together (and perhaps even obtain a fee waiver), and all earn the credit for the exam with a single day of testing.  Sadly, CLEP will no longer be part of such a program, though other testing programs can still be.

We can only hope that other institutions of higher learning, and those which test for previously obtained college-level knowledge, will continue to allow paper-based options which incarcerated students can utilize.  If not, then the answer might be to push harder for a more technologically advanced corrections culture in the future

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).

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