For many, the commencement marks a milestone and completion of the Business User Certificate, a six credit-hour program. Several of the men earned an additional nine credit-hour Landscape Design Specialist Certificate which includes hands-on work in a greenhouse on the prison grounds and one man earned an associate degree.
“Offenders who go through TCC’s program are taught and mentored by experienced business professionals and gain marketable skills while incarcerated,” TCC President & CEO Leigh B. Goodson, Ph.D. said. “The certificate and degree options available in the TCC Corrections Education are designed to help offenders find employment upon release.”
This past year, TCC was one of 67 colleges and universities nationwide to participate in a pilot program in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education allowing eligible incarcerated Americans to receive Pell Grants to pursue postsecondary education.
“During this first year in the pilot program, we had tremendous participation as evidenced by the higher number of graduates,” Jeff Horvath, TCC Corrections Education Coordinator said. “The Pell Grant pilot program is not replacing what we have been doing since 2007 but adding additional opportunities to help meet demand and impact more lives.”
Oklahoma is currently fifth in the nation for incarcerated men. The recidivism rate for students participating in the TCC program is less than 5%, which is significantly less than the state’s average of more than 20%. Because Oklahoma reduces an inmate’s sentence for earning college credit, every time an inmate earns an Associate Degree, approximately one year is reduced from the inmate’s sentence, saving the state thousands of dollars.
The speaker at the commencement ceremony was New York Times best-selling author and motivational speaker Chef Jeff Henderson. He shared his story about serving nearly a decade in prison. Henderson has been the keynote speaker at the Conner graduation ceremony for eight of the past 10 years. He is involved in mentoring and encouraging incarcerated individuals in Oklahoma as well as across the country.
To date, more than 500 students have participated in TCC’s Corrections Education program with 17 students earning an associate degree and 386 students earning a certificate. TCC’s Corrections Education Program expanded to include women in 2009 and works with individuals at the Turley Residential Center and Women in Recovery.