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UMES enlisted to help reduce prison recidivism

  • Wednesday, April 29, 2020
    Eastern Correctional Institution is seven miles from UMES

    The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is hoping to partner with a nearby state penitentiary to provide college-level business courses created specifically to prepare inmates to be self-employed when they leave prison. 

    UMES was among 67 higher education institutions invited earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Education to participate in an expansion of the Second Chance Pell Experiment. 

    “We look forward to making a positive impact on the lives of persons who have been incarcerated,” said Leesa Thomas-Banks, chair of UMES' Department of Business, Management and Accounting.  “Research has shown that post-secondary education of incarcerated individuals can have a transformative effect, and reduce recidivism.”  

    Started during the Obama administration, the Second Chance program provides financial aid to underwrite college instruction offered to those serving behind bars.  Previously, Congress created the well-known Pell Grant program in 1972 “to help financially needy undergraduate students meet the costs of their education.” 

    In a proposal submitted to the federal agency, UMES said it had designed a five-course curriculum leading to a “Certificate of Entrepreneurship” in two years.. 

    “The Certificate of Entrepreneurship will cultivate in our Second Chance learners the skills to start and run a business that can provide them with legitimate economic opportunities to survive financially,” Thomas-Banks said.

    UMES still needs the formal OK from the Maryland Higher Education Commission before it can offer off-site instruction.  Eastern Correctional Institution south of Princess Anne is the likely location suggested in the federal application.

    "UMES values access and opportunity for all, so we see no better way to live our values than to take part in the Second Chance Pell program,” President Heidi M. Anderson said. “We're grateful to be a selected location to educate inmates at ECI.”

    The university is one of four historically black baccalaureate institutions on the list of 67 that also includes Bowie State University.

    Vetting applicants' credentials will mirror that used to evaluate high school graduates.  Inmates with a high school diploma need at least a 3.0 grade point average, or a GED equivalent. Because there is math involved, applicants must pass a qualifying test unless an available SAT math score can substitute as an exemption. 

    Courses will be taught twice weekly in the early evening by full-time UMES faculty or qualified adjunct instructors.  The first group enrolled will be limited to 15 men. 

    The university's application to participate as a Second Chance provider estimated the cost for a student-inmate to complete all five courses to be $4,590, which includes tuition, reading material and supplies that UMES would also provide. 

    “Employment opportunities of formerly incarcerated individuals often are limited," Thomas-Banks said, "but the skills developed … at UMES will empower our learners to support not only their families but create opportunities to become positive role models, and perhaps even employers in their communities.” 

    The university noted in its application that studies show “a significant barrier to employment for released prisoners is the general requirement to disclose past convictions at the time of application.  While some states have moved to eliminate that question, many former inmates believe … their history prevented many employers from considering them.” 

    UMES has offered college instruction at ECI before, but has not done so in more than a decade. 

    The three-credit courses are: Introduction to Business, College Accounting, New Venture Creation, Fundamentals of Finance and Fundamentals of Marketing.  The university says they meet standards of most institutions, so certificate recipients could apply those credits toward a college degree. 

    “This program goes hand-in-hand with what we already do at UMES,” Thomas-Banks said, adding, “It can also facilitate a smoother re-entry into society."