Incarcerated Students and the Unintended Consequences of a Technology-Driven Higher Education System

Incarcerated Students and the Unintended Consequences of a Technology-Driven Higher Education System

Patricia A. Aceves (Stony Brook University, State University of New York, USA), Robert I. Aceves (The City University of New York, Aviation Institute at York College, USA) and Shannon Watson (Anoka Ramsey Community College, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-623-7.ch023
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This case study outlines the partnership between the Minnesota Department of Corrections and St. Cloud State University. As higher education underwent significant changes in technology and distance education delivery during the 1990s, the print-based correspondence course was rapidly being converted to online delivery, leaving offender students without higher education access or options. The university-corrections partnership created an innovative and unique program through reverse-engineering online general education courses into print-based materials. The inability to use technology to provide cost effective education to many geographically dispersed students indicates that as a society, available technologies cannot yet be trusted to provide offender access to family, education and jobs while providing safety and security for citizens. What will make programs and partnerships like this successful in the future is the openness of corrections, education, and innovative technology partners to reexamine technology’s role and allow for changes in operational procedures that can satisfy the needs of all societal stakeholders.
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In 2005, 44 states were offering some form of postsecondary education to offenders, from vocational programs and certificates to full baccalaureate degrees. The impact of these partnerships, while small in scope, benefits citizens in the form of safer communities and a reduced tax burden (Erisman and Contardo, 2005). Research has consistently documented that offenders taking postsecondary college courses leading to an associate’s degree or higher are significantly less likely to re-offend after release; on average, recidivism rates are reported to be up to 46% lower than for those who had not enrolled in college courses (Chappell, 2004).

This chapter is a case study of an interagency partnership between a state department of corrections and a state university and the role that technology played in furthering their commitment to providing postsecondary correctional education to offenders. Technology played a two-fold role in this partnership; on one hand, the increase of online learning decreased the accessibility of college courses that had formerly been provided through correspondence study. Conversely, technology facilitated the development of quality print-based courses and provided timely, cost effective delivery and communications between physical institutions, which ultimately made the educational process work.

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