Community colleges resume face-to-face teaching in prisons


North Carolina Community Colleges have a long history of inmate education with some programs dating back over 40 years.

Cleveland Community College is one of 41 community colleges that provide educational opportunities for incarcerated people. According to North Carolina Community College System, colleges offer educational programs at approximately 53 institutions across the state.

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But Cleveland has a different arrangement than the 40 other colleges.

In July 2021, the college acquired ownership of the Cleveland Correctional Center. the prison closed in 2009 when the state’s Department of Corrections closed seven prisons, cutting costs by more than $ 22 million a year. The college started running classes at the facility after it closed. Two years later, former State Senator Wes Westmoreland helped pass a law that would transfer the closed jail to Cleveland Community College. Although the transfer process started in 2011, it only became official last year.

Since becoming its owner, the college has made significant changes, including converting isolation cells to welding booths. EdNC visited the site in the fall of 2021.

Isolation cells converted into welding booths. Emily Thomas / EducationNC

The facility currently houses four educational programs, including plumbing, carpentry, welding and electrical systems. Dr Jason Hurst, president of Cleveland Community College, said there are multiple opportunities to expand the programs, highlighting the full kitchen that could be used for a culinary program.

Cleveland Community College serves prisoners at Lincoln Correctional Center in Lincolnton. Inmates enrolled in educational programs are transported from Lincolnton to Cleveland where they receive training from instructors from the college. The education they receive is identical to that of a traditional community college student.

Once an inmate completes the one-year program, they earn a college certificate. According to Brandon Ruppe, director of personalized training at Cleveland Community College, inmates also receive a National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER) certification, which is a nationally recognized professional designation.

Fall 2021 was the first semester that inmates have been allowed to return to the facility since the start of the pandemic. In 2020, North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) suspended all instructions face to face in prisons. However, the state allowed alternative learning and inmates were able to finish their books.

Ruppe said when COVID is not an issue, there are up to 68 inmates on-site at the facility. He hopes that when classes resume at the end of January, they can return to their normal capacity as students.

And that’s in part because of the impact of these educational programs on inmates.

A Meta-analysis 2013 by RAND Corporation found that inmates who participated in educational programs were 43% less likely to reoffend. And the odds of getting a job after release increased by 13% for those who participated in educational programs.

But the reintegration process can still be a pain point for many formerly incarcerated people.

On March 30, Cleveland County will host a community jail simulation that will provide community partners with a glimpse of what people experience when they get out of jail.

“These events are incredibly indicative of the difficulties people face when released from the prison system,” said Ruppe.

The event is sponsored by STI Fabrics at Kings Mountain in partnership with Cleveland County Chamber and NCDPS.

What’s new at Cleveland Community College

The prison is just a new addition to Cleveland Community College.

Beginning in fall 2022, the college will offer its first-ever independent nursing program.

For three decades, Cleveland Community College has been part of the Foothills Nursing Consortium (FNC) along with two other community colleges, Isothermal and McDowell Technical. Students in the consortium take courses at all three sites during their program.

The consortium was originally created so that the three colleges could combine resources and share costs in the hope of improving the quality of their nursing programs.

But Hurst said the consortium has created barriers for students over the years. And removing those barriers was one of the reasons Cleveland Community College chose to pursue a stand-alone program.

“Our students, depending on where they live in Cleveland County, might end up having to drive an hour to go to McDowell’s class,” Hurst said. “And in some cases, they had to do clinics in those areas.”

The distance and lack of regular transportation for some students proved to be a challenge.

Another reason was the number of students Cleveland could admit to the program. Hurst said that with the stand-alone nursing program, the college will be able to admit even more students than it previously had in the consortium.

In preparation for the new program, and because COVID created challenges at clinical sites, the college purchased new equipment for its health sciences program and first responder training. The new equipment provides lifelike healthcare experiences while students stay on the college campus. Some of the equipment includes a portable x-ray machine, several high-fidelity and medium-fidelity mannequins, and a HoloLens that uses virtual reality to provide an immersive look inside the human body.

This will be the consortium’s last year, with 2023 being the last promotion. All three colleges will begin enrolling students in independent nursing programs starting in fall 2022.

Cleveland Community College has also improved its Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) program.

BLET has purchased an interactive training program that provides a simulation environment for trainees. Interns go through everything from roadside checks to domestic violence situations to suspicious searches.

In the Paksoy Technology Center, floor-to-ceiling screens cover a room. An instructor is located at the back of the room behind a computer where he controls the scenarios encountered by the trainees. As the trainees interact with the people on the screen, the instructor chooses to escalate or defuse the situation based on the interactions, questions and answers the trainees have to those on the screen.

Instructors use the scenarios and student responses as a learning tool for the class. The exercises help trainees understand body language, defuse situations and make decisions quickly.

Trainees also use a simulator to learn tactical driving skills before getting behind the wheel.

President Jason Hurst tests tactical driving equipment. Emily Thomas / EducationNC

According to Aaron Vassey, law enforcement training coordinator at Cleveland Community College, interactive technology isn’t just for BLET students. Current law enforcement can use the equipment for additional training.

Look ahead

EdNC interviewed Hurst in early 2021. He had just been named North Carolina Community College President of the Year, and we discussed everything from leadership during a pandemic to the college’s new mascot.

During our interview, Hurst said:

“I think every day we fight to change the image of community college and what it means for moms, dads and high school students – and it’s no less than. This is a great route to take, whether you want to enter a university or enter the workforce directly.

Dr Jason Hurst, President of Cleveland Community College

In one recent interview along with a local reporter, Hurst said he was determined to improve the college experience for students.

Part of those upgrades include upgrades to Classrooms, Library, and Yeti Cafe to make them more student-friendly.

House of the future statue of the Yeti. Emily Thomas / Education

The college has also added an athletic park, where the school mascot will eventually stand near the center.

In 2019, the college opened an online survey and let the community decide on its new mascot. With 2,100 votes, the official mascot of Cleveland Community College became the Yeti.

Emilie thomas

Emily Thomas is Policy Analyst for EducationNC.

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