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Guilford College: Walking the walk and talking the talk

August 6, 2016

When I mentioned my recent college tour of 12 colleges in five and a half days, one of my friends asked, "Why do you travel so much?"   I love talking about what I do, so this was the perfect opening to expound upon the benefits to my students of all my college visits. Professional associations for independent educational consultants, like IECA and HECA, expect their members to stay current on their knowledge of current trends on college campuses and to get a feel for the campus culture by setting foot on the campus. Think of it as recommending a restaurant in which you have never had a meal.  In addition to extensive online and print research, I tour colleges. Since 2012, I have made more than 190 visits with plans to continue.

The North Carolina Colleges and Independent Universities (NCICU) sponsor an annual tour of member institutions. Dividing the state into three sections, the 2016 tour featured 12 institutions in the Central part of the state: Bennett College, Cabarrus College of Health Sciences, Catawba College, Elon University, Greensboro College, Guilford College, High Point University, Livingstone College, Pfeiffer University, Salem College, Wake Forest University and Wingate University.   Typically, I would write something about each school; however, in light of recent national events, I am going in a different direction by focusing on one institution. Guilford College, in Greensboro, centers on seven Core Values: Community, Diversity, Equality, Excellence, Integrity, Justice and Stewardship, derived from their Quaker foundation. These values are living and breathing on this campus and I want to share a small slice of life at Guilford with you.

After arriving in the late afternoon, getting our room assignments and freshening up quickly (hot, humid weather in North Carolina requires this frequently), we gathered for dinner in the Hege Library’s Carnegie Room. One of my dinner companions was Barbara Lawrence, who wears multiple hats on campus. Barbara is an Associate Academic Dean, an associate professor in the Department of Justice & Policy Studies, and the director of the Higher Education in Prison Program (HEIPP). Listening to her describe her work was one of the major highlights of the visit to Guilford for me. In her “Race, Society, and Criminal Justice” class, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, The Color of Water: A Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride and The Ferguson Report: Department of Justice Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, provide the textual foundation for the course. Having read the first two, I am curious about the third book; another book to add to my reading list.

Continuing our discussion, Barbara explained more about the Higher Education in Prison Program. Participants chosen for the program cannot have a sentence longer than seven years.  Taking 10 courses for 30 credits in a structured program positions inmates to sit for the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certificate exam upon completion of the coursework; previously, participants had to wait three years after their release to take the exam. Personally, I feel changing that policy benefits all involved and contributes to the success of the program. Why wait?  The exam, costing $200, may be out of reach for some participants, so the HEIPP works to make the exam affordable for the prisoners. Guilford faculty teach the courses while alumni and student volunteers mentor the program participants.

Recently, the Obama administration announced the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program, allowing selected inmates with release dates within five years to receive Pell Grants to further their education. Twenty-two years ago, the 103rd Congress banned prisoners from receiving Pell grants under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. This ban was one of a long list of policies enacted during the infamous War on Drugs. However, a study by the Rand Corporation in 2013 indicates education for inmates while incarcerated lowers the rate of recidivism and increases the chances for employment after their release.

The Higher Education in Prison Program and the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program may well be a part of the solution to one of the myriad problems in criminal justice today. Former governor Steven Beshear (KY) states”By reducing the rate of offenders who return to prison, we keep our communities safer, our families more intact, and we’re able to begin reinvesting incarceration costs to other critical services.” After all, isn’t that what we want for our country?

I visit colleges to learn about new academic programs, services offered by the Career Development Office, the latest leadership opportunities, scholarships to help finance a college education and so much more like the Higher Education in Prison Program. Guilford College, walking the walk and talking the talk, in their community and beyond.

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