Onsite Bible college education for prison inmates.

By October 6, 2006

USA (MNN) — Re-entry into society is one of the most difficult things for prisoners. Crossroad Bible Institute has been helping make re-entry successful by providing accredited college-level correspondence courses for inmates.

But this fall, the Center for Advanced Studies at Crossroad Bible Institute has started a satellite campus in the Newton, Iowa facility. This is in partnership with Prison Fellowship’s Interchange Freedom Initiative unit (IFI) in the Newton facility.

Crossroad’s David Schuringa says they’re very excited about this new venture. “This is a first for us, because up to this point in the last 22 years, all of our programs have been through distance education. And now we are, for the first time, going to be offering the college level courses right onsite there.”

The program actually had its vision in Reverend Art VanWolde, from nearby Pella, Iowa. He had a dream to offer college level courses at the unit, with the idea to help prisoners get a feel for what it takes to succeed in college in order to help with successful reentry. VanWolde contacted Crossroad to see if their Center for Advanced Studies would partner with him to make his dream stronger and accredited.

The demand for the new class was high, but VanWolde started small with just 12 students this first year while they’re still testing the model out. This year, they’re offering Old Testament and New Testament courses. The 12 week semester began in September, with a weekly two hour lecture and discussion with the students. Schuringa says that the courses are “serious business” with a lot of work and homework. There are midterm and final exams, and upon completion, students will receive credit toward Bible college. But the hard work will pay off and give them a running start for whenever they decide to go to college upon reentry.

Schuringa says the satellite campus is a thrilling move that will hopefully expand to benefit even more prisoners. If the onsite course proves successful, it will serve to launch satellite campuses in other IFI units across the country, which is one of Crossroad’s dreams.

As for the 12 men in the satellite program this year, Schuringa says, “They’re responding very, very well, and the men are very excited about it. They know the importance of education, and this is a Bible College level courses and something that they’ll be able to use the rest of their lives. So, the initial response has been very positive, and the likelihood of this spreading to other prisons seems very much in the realm of possibility.”

Currently, 1000 students are taking the college level distance education courses through the Center for Advanced Studies, and the Center is in the process of developing more college level courses. Schuringa says the system they already have in place will help make the onsite courses a success, because, “If a student gets transferred to another facility, he could then pick it up as a distance education level that we already have in place.”

According to Schuringa, at one time, inmates could get Pell grants to assist with college education, but Congress discontinued that funding, and so there are very few college-level opportunities for prisoners. Schuringa is not aware of any national effort to help prisoners gain an education, which is why Crossroad’s program is such an exciting thing.

“If these guys come out of prison and have 6, 10, 12, 16 credits of college level courses completed,” says Schuringa, “many Bible colleges will be very pleased to transfer that credit if they are accepted as students there. So we’re giving them a head start. They can hit the ground running. And I would like to see this, if God wills, happen all over the country.”

So how is this program funded? Schuringa says, for the inmates, “It’s free; there’s no tuition charge. We raise the money for the tuition and the scholarships. And it’s an opportunity for men to get a college education who otherwise would not have access to it.”

Crossroad Bible Institute and the Center for Advanced Studies encourage churches and believers to help make this Bible college education available to prisoners, and help direct the course of people’s lives. If you’d like to help with this effort, contact Crossroad Bible Institute.

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