Arkansas State University - Newport

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August 2019

ASUN History...reaching a special population

When speaking of non-traditional students from a diverse community, one could certainly include our Arkansas State University-Newport Prison Education Program.  Located in Jackson County are two state prison facilities-one for medium security male inmates and the other for all female prisoners. In 1998, ASUN agreed to offer college credit courses at the McPherson unit, later, courses were added at the Grimes unit. What began small has grown over the decades to full course offerings required to complete associate degrees.

In 2016, ASU-Newport became one of 67 colleges and universities from across the country to participate in the Second Chance Pell Program. It began as an experimental program to test whether participation in high-quality education programs increases after expanding access to financial aid for incarcerated individuals. 

Under the leadership of several gifted administrators, many hurdles have been cleared and creative solutions found in order to provide the number and variety of course which make it possible for a student to complete a certificate of proficiency and even a degree rather than just earning credit hours. 

At one time, Dr. Allen Mooneyhan presided over ASUN’s prison program. He said he quickly learned the value of the program.

“When I took over the administration of the Prison Education Program, I thought my toughest challenge would be trying to find faculty who would be willing to teach the 4-5 classes we offered each semester,” Mooneyhan said. “Little did I realize that my greatest obstacle would be in discovering ways to offer more classes such as science labs, physical education, and computer technology.  Not only did the faculty like teaching the inmate population, but those students wanted additional courses and greater opportunities to improve their lives.”

Perhaps our community is unaware of the service ASUN provides through prison education. The original federal grant for the program was focused on reducing recidivism. If an inmate can gain credentials that will help him or her to obtain a job upon release, their likelihood of returning to prison drops significantly. The benefits to society are many fold, including reducing the expense of additional incarcerations as well as reducing the chances of repeated crime. Common sense tells us that this positive for all involved.

ASU-Newport is proud of the individuals that have proven these ideals. One student who was released on parole in November 2016 left incarceration with a Certificate of General Studies. She continued her education at the University of Arkansas Rich Mountain, graduated, and proceeded to enroll at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. While continuing her education, she works in the accounting division at Tyson Foods. She’s proven her dedication, and ASU-Newport may be where it all began.

As educators, we are always proud to assist individuals in improving their lives.  This is especially the case for inmates who have few chances to take control of their lives and bring about positive endings.

“These students are very, very motivated,” Mooneyhan said. “They understand that we are here to help them improve their status. Being enrolled in college classes is a privilege only granted to those inmates who achieve a behavior level of a class one or two.”

This program adheres to our mission and vision but especially our values. Community, diversity, innovation, integrity, student-centeredness, and trust are the foundation of our institution. A foundation we will most certainly continue to carry into the future.

This look back is brought to you by Ike Wheeler, ASUN’s Dean for Community Engagement.