Virginia DOC College Credit Program Reaping Big Returns

RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) released a statement on March 28 touting the success of its first-of-its kind college credit program for state prison inmates. Since January 2014, VADOC inmates have accrued more than 1,500 course completions and nearly 9,000 college credits through the award-winning college credit initiative.

VADOC Director Harold Clarke said in a statement that employment is one of the greatest predictors of reentry success, and the key to employment is education. “[The VADOC’s] emphasis on education has helped us attain the lowest recidivism rate in the nation. This initiative and others like it are fundamental to our success and fundamental to our mission of long-term public safety,” Clarke added.

In addition to college credits (which cost an average of $3.69 each), students have earned more than 1,500 completions in five Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses, which are also eligible for college credit. These include business software applications, computer-aided drafting, computer graphics and design, introduction to computers, and graphic communication and print production.

The courses are offered in varying degrees at 17 different facilities. While no facilities offer all five courses, three facilities (Baskerville, Fluvanna and River North correctional centers) offer three courses. Eleven facilities (Augusta, Bland, Deerfield, Greensville, Haynesville, Lawrenceville, Nottoway and St. Brides correctional centers, Virginia Correctional Center for Women and Central Virginia and Rustburg correctional units) offer two courses. And three facilities (Green Rock, Pocahontas correctional centers and Sussex II State Prison) offer one course.

All VADOC classes are accredited through the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT). VADOC gained its accreditation by meeting the rigorous requirements of ACE CREDIT, and requires that all correctional educators obtain licensure. Many also hold industry certifications, according to a statement by the department.

During the accreditation process, ACE CREDIT officials visited Virginia, reviewing teacher credentials and resumes, and examining each course. ACE CREDIT ultimately granted its approval in 2016, and made the department’s five CTE courses eligible for college credit retroactive to January 2014. With this accreditation, VADOC became the only state prison system in the nation to hold ACE CREDIT recommendations, according to a statement by the department.

In July 2016, VADOC’s prison college credit initiative also received the State Transformation in Action (STAR) Award from the Council of State Government’s Southern Legislative Conference, sparking national interest in Virginia’s efforts. It was Virginia’s third STAR Award since 2013.