Kent Trumbull to Offer Inmates Degrees in Tech, Applied Studies

WARREN, Ohio – Schools, not prisons, make people productive members of society. 

A 2013 study by The Rand Corp. reports those incarcerated who participate in educational programs were 43% less likely to become repeat offenders.

It’s a point Kristenne Robison emphasizes. The professor of sociology, criminology and justice studies at Kent State Trumbull is one of the advocates of a new program, 2+2,  at the campus. It offers inmates at Trumbull Correctional Institution an opportunity to earn a college degree.

Robison, who has worked 10 years teaching prisoners, spent time at TCI and understands the need to further their education while in prison because some of the stressors that led them to incarceration return once they are released. It also reduces recidivism.

“If they have degrees in hand when they get out, it’s a lot easier to get a job,” Robison says. “When you have a credential and earned a credential, it shows that you’re doing something in a positive way.”

The 2+2 program is a joint effort among Kent State Trumbull, LaunchNet Kent State and Sinclair Community College in Dayton. It combines a two-year associate degree program in business management from Sinclair with a two-year degree option in technical and applied studies from Kent State. Classes begin this fall and will also be offered in the spring and summer semesters.

The first graduates in the Sinclair program are set to complete it later this year. They can then participate in the local KSU program, which offers concentrations in applied business, fraud examination and nonprofit human services.

The goal is to get about 15 inmates signed up this fall for the Trumbull program. Eligible students are those who have earned their associate degrees through Sinclair or another institution, are close to their release dates and have been in minimal trouble at TCI.

To get this program started, staffing support was needed to carry it out along with tuition support for the individuals taking the classes. Pell Grant funding is currently unavailable for those incarcerated. But Congress lifted the 26-year ban on that financial aid. The grants will return as soon as fall 2022 and no later than July 1, 2023.

The estimated yearly cost for the program at Kent Trumbull is $250,000 based on 15 students enrolled, says Dave Smith, director of philanthropy for Kent Trumbull.

Funding the pilot program are the Burton D. Morgan Foundation, Raymond John Wean Foundation, The Youngstown Foundation, Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley, the Thomases Family Endowment and Kent State University.

When Pell Grants become available, future tuition costs will help to offset staffing and program needs, making this endeavor self-sufficient moving forward, Smith says.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction does reimburse part of the tuition, according to Robison. And ODRC had to give the Trumbull branch approval for this program.

“We were blown away by the local support that we received for this,” Smith says.

“Kent State is making a major investment in this as well,” he notes. “It’s almost working out as a perfect 50/50 split here where Kent State is funding half of this and local community partners are funding the other half.”

The school administrator at Trumbull Correctional Institution, Daniel Wood, teaches some of the 1,300 inmates. There are 91 enrolled with Sinclair, while 166 are in academic instructions and 63 in vocational learning. The prison also offers coursework toward the general education development test.

Wood is passionate about his work, emphasizing to the inmates the importance of education. He tells of recently receiving a call from a former inmate who wanted his transcripts because he was going to get a job. The former inmate praised the prison’s education system.

Wood says he’s looking forward to the day when family members can be there for graduation ceremonies at Trumbull Correctional Institution and not be shut out because of pandemic restrictions.

“That’s a touching moment when you see someone graduate and their families are there,” he says. “It’s like they won the lottery.”

Robison, the Kent Trumbull professor, says she reached out to organizations such as Flying High to understand more about prisoner re-entry into society and how it connects to businesses seeking qualified workers. Her goal is to reach back out to this organization in some of KSU-Trumbull’s planning to see if the inmates can connect with some of those employers – as well as reaching out to the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

Educated prisoners re-entering society need to have job possibilities to go with the education portion, Smith says.

“That’s really what’s needed to make this whole program successful,” he says. “The next step is to bring everybody together. We have a two-year window to work on that now.”

Daniel Palmer, interim dean and chief administrative officer at KSU-Trumbull, will head an advisory board. He’s looking to get involvement from community organizations, employers and support groups to work with these individuals and design a program that helps them find jobs.

So what is the pitch to employers to be part of this process?Palmer says the goal is to “change the mindset about how we look at these individuals and to get employers to recognize they have made the changes, gotten the education, developed the skills and really want to be making a difference in their own lives as they re-enter.

Pictured: Kent State University at Trumbull Interim Dean and Chief Administrative Officer Daniel Palmer, assistant professor of sociology Kristenne Robison and Director of Philanthropy for the Trumbull Campus Dave Smith represent the campus as they unveil a program starting this fall where those incarcerated at Trumbull Correctional Institution have the opportunity to earn a college degree.