Given A Remote Chance

A tech-based correctional education program shows the benefits of embracing digital studies.

GUEST COLUMN | by Evon Jones

This spring, the COVID-19 pandemic forced colleges and universities across America to transition to online instruction, leaving educators, parents, and students scrambling to adjust. While many schools have offered the option to return to campus for the fall semester, some students are choosing to stay remote. And with widespread outbreaks on many campuses just weeks into the school year, we may see even more schools shift back to fully online learning.

Online education has become increasingly popular in recent years, with over 35 percent of postsecondary students in the U.S. enrolled in distance education courses in 2018. Yet for many families who choose a traditional, on-campus experience, remote education still holds a stigma – and they worry that the quality of instruction will not meet their expectations.

‘These students are not simply meeting the bare minimum requirements to participate in the program – they have excelled.’

I serve as Chief Information Officer for a correctional technology company that uses digital tablets to connect incarcerated Americans with college classes. Based on my experience, distanced learning can not only meet or exceed the quality standards offered in person, it can do so under the most challenging circumstances.

A Lantern Forward

Our program, Lantern, has been connecting incarcerated students with educators at Ashland University in Ohio for the last four years. This opportunity is critical, with study after study showing that investing in post-secondary education in prisons helps incarcerated Americans succeed upon release and avoid reoffending. That, in turn, makes our communities safer.

Lantern shows the versatility and durability of tech-based learning – and the outcomes have been striking. Incarcerated individuals have the opportunity to participate in the same courses, and engage with the same professors, as their non-incarcerated classmates.

These students are not simply meeting the bare minimum requirements to participate in the program – they have excelled. Some have even served as class valedictorians, and the program just celebrated the graduation of its 600th incarcerated student.

Potential to Transform

In this uncertain climate, there is a growing need for successful remote learning programs that can equip individuals with the necessary skills and tools to succeed professionally – especially in a rapidly changing job market.

Americans who have been incarcerated for even a few years may find themselves lacking the skills needed for entry level positions. A digital education can help bridge that gap and connect these individuals with the opportunities that currently exist in the new economy.

A look at our former students demonstrates the long-lasting impact of the program. While incarcerated, Ronald Hopkins (pictured) earned his GED and began taking college coursework using the Securus digital tablet. He continued his education after completing his sentence, earned his college degree, and now is currently working to earn his Bachelor’s Degree from Liberty University for Religious Services and Christian Leadership. Matt Richey earned a bachelor’s degree from Ashland through the Lantern program, and is now employed as a Site Coordinator Assistant at the University while working towards his master’s degree.

Online education can help schools connect with students who live thousands of miles away, or even behind prison walls. It can help attract more diverse students – and more diverse faculty. And it has the potential to transform lives, create a more skilled workforce, and train the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs.

‘Online education can help schools connect with students who live thousands of miles away, or even behind prison walls.’

Instead of viewing the shift to remote learning as a secondary education model, more colleges and universities should embrace the benefits and opportunities that this model can provide.

Evon Jones is the Chief Information Officer at Aventiv Technologies, an IT services company in corrections and government services, and he is a Board Member of The Securus Foundation, on a mission to reduce recidivism and modernize the re-entry process to increase successful community re-engagement. Evon helps administer the technology behind the Lantern correctional education program in partnership with Ashland University. He earned his degree in Business Administration and Computer Information Systems at Baruch College CUNY, and a mini-MBA in digital marketing, SEO, web analytics, customer acquisition and mobile from Rutgers University – New Brunswick. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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