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Tennessee Higher Education Initiative

Program Website: www.THEInitiativeTN.org

Contacts: Julie L. Doochin, Ed.D., Executive Director, THEInitiativeTN@gmail.com, (615) 400-7811

Program Description: The Tennessee Higher Education Initiative (THEI), is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing access to degree-bearing higher education in correctional facilities in Tennessee by coordinating and overseeing on-site college courses whose credits can be applied to an associates or bachelor degree. Further, THEI helps incarcerated students transition to the college campus upon release, and therefore operates on both sides of the bars. The THEI works in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Correction and various public colleges and universities in the state, like Nashville State Community College, in order to make these academic opportunities possible. Credits earned from these courses are recognized and transferable to any Tennessee Board of Regents College or University, as well as certain private and public colleges and universities outside of Tennessee in the Southeastern region (i.e. SACS schools).

The program began in Jan. 2012 with the college program at Charles Bass Correctional Complex for men in Nashville, Tennessee. At present, courses and credits are offered by and through Nashville State Community College and Lipscomb University has also offered some courses. Professors are full-time or adjunct at NSCC and have included professorial participation from Belmont University, Lipscomb University, Vanderbilt University, Tennessee State University, Middle Tennessee State University and Chattanooga State Community College. Based upon a cohort model, 25 men move through the program together, taking 2-3 courses per semester. The program was initially funded by a federal youth offender grant to states, which expired Dec. 31, 2012. Now the program is funded by THEI, a non-profit founded for this purpose. In order to be admitted to the program, each applicant must take the standard Tennessee college placement exam, (ACT/Compass) and place at college level; complete the application; write an essay; and pay $20 administrative fee each semester.

The federal grant covered significant technology, which was requested in order to provide the incarcerated students the same technology, to the extent possible, available to Nashville State campus students. The prison was awarded a state of the art computer lab featuring 27 Dell desktop computers, laser printer, a smart board and smart projector. The computers have software that is not internet-based. The prisoners do not have access to the internet, but are gaining much needed computer skills (i.e. excel, powerpoint, Microsoft office…), which will help them survive in a 21st century digital world, by using the computers to complete assignments for their courses. The instructors also use the computers to vary instruction methods.

Programs/Degrees Offered: Currently, students can earn the 41-Hour General Education Certificate (general core from Tenn. Board of Regents degree curriculum), which form the first 41 hours of the 60-hour Associates degree. THEI hopes to be accredited to award the AS degree in the near future.

Headquarters: Nashville, TN 

Correctional Facilities Served: Charles Bass Correctional Complex (Nashville, TN) – since Jan. 2012, Turney Center Industrial Complex (Only, TN) – since Summer 2014

Population Served: Incarcerated men, most of whom have less than 15 years to release, though a few have life sentences. Charles Bass is a minimum to medium security prison and the Turney Center is a medium to maximum-security prison. In the future, the program will serve incarcerated men and women who meet the admissions criteria.

Number of Students: 50 at present; 87 students have earned college credits thus far 

Graduates to Date: NA

Year Founded: 2012

Founders: Julie L. Doochin

College/University/Organization Partnerships: Nashville State Community College, Tennessee Dept. of Correction, Lipscomb University

Funding: Federal Youth Offender (IYO) Grant to States (Nov. 2011 – Dec. 2012). Since January 2013, privately funded.

  • National Directory of Prison Education Programs