While universities continue to navigate online classes and transitional semesters, some religious post-secondary institutions have gone beyond to connect with more than just their traditional students.
Many prisoners seeking online teaching have been able to enroll and attend classes online through faith-based universities, Religion News reports.
With visitation at correctional facilities suspended for much of the past year due to COVID-19 restrictions, live-class instruction became very difficult. For imprisoned students, the situation has been described as a "lockdown on top of the lockdown," according to Vickie Reddy, assistant director of North Park's School of Restorative Arts.
"It really has taken a mental toll beyond the trauma that's already there," Ruddy says.
With online courses, teaching, and claswork, however, a new level of accessibility has been made available to those behind bars.
North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago is one such institution who has adapted to online teaching for inmates. The school introduced a program offering a master's degree in Christian ministry and restorative arts, which was well responded to by prisoners at Stateville Correctional Centre.
Some of the courses offered for the program include theology, history, and pastoral care. Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom, director of the School of Restorative Arts, says a class of 38 students is on track to graduate from the program in 2022.
Each week, Reddy retrieves individual material packages from instructors and delivers them to students at Stateville. When students complete their work, she collects it, scans the assignments, and turns the assignments in to instructors.
Reddy says students are treated like any other college student in the process.
"It's remarkable," she said. "And there's no concession ... There's no, 'Okay, we'll go easy on you because you're in prison.' It's a full load and they have high expectations," Reddy says.
Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, also worked to keep college-credit courses available to inmates.
Prisoners at the Chillicothe Correctional Center were able to take part in redesigned courses, offered on Zoom and televisions.
Thomas Curran, president of the school, teaches the students himself. A class of 18 students meet in a large room in the correctional facility and watch classes on a big screen together, six feet apart and masked.
Curran, who calls the teaching method a "breakthrough," hopes the courses will continue and encourage a hybrid approach to learning for inmates with both in-person and online components.
Inmates at Chillicothe so far, as well as a separate group of corrections officers, have completed 31 college credits towards an associate's degree.
Deputy warden of operations Kimberly Herring says the program has helped students who are incarcerated regain self-worth and cope better with prison isolation.
Shirley V. Hoogstra, president of Council for Christain Colleges and Universities, says the programs emphasize Jesus' mandate in Matthew 25, where he calls on Christians to visit those in prison.
"An education recognizes the God-given dignity of all individuals. It provides a fresh start," says Hoogstra.