Five years ago, Lipscomb University (Nashville, TN) established the Lipscomb Initiative for Education (LIFE) program to provide opportunities for their students and inmates at the Tennessee Prison for Women (TPFW) to learn and grow together.
Each semester as many as 30 Lipscomb students enroll in a liberal arts course held at the prison; classes have included art history, Christian ethics, and conflict management. Both students and faculty travel to the prison for classes. The Lipscomb students work toward their bachelor’s degrees and, until recently, the inmates worked for credit hours to be applied toward a future degree after their release.
Last fall the college added another benefit to the program by creating an associate of arts degree specifically for the women at TPFW. When the first prison cohort completed the initial program, they looked for additional opportunities to learn, and Lipscomb worked with them to create a literary journal and theater productions. Now these “extracurriculars” will count toward the 63 credit hours needed for the associate’s degree and will also give the inmates a head start on a BA from a four-year college.
Lipscomb is the only college in the region, and one of the few nationwide, offering this type of degree to prison inmates.
“While there are a few programs across the nation that offer associate’s degrees within the prisons, most are correspondence courses,” says Richard Goode, creator of the LIFE program and associate professor of history at Lipscomb. “A trademark of the LIFE program is face-to-face instruction and the opportunity for inmates to study side-by-side with traditional college students.”
“The LIFE program strives to enhance the lives of the TPFW inmates—both in prison and when they are released—by helping them develop better self-confidence, expanded life experience, and good study habits,” shares the school. “Lipscomb’s traditional students are afforded an eye-opening experience to get to know and befriend the inmates, an encounter that many students say has affected their life choices well after completing the class.”