Tennessee Higher Education Initiative

Program Website: www.THEInitiativeTN.org

Contacts: Julie Doochin, Executive Director, jdoochin@theinitiativetn.org, (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. 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. All of our program sites are SACS-Accredited, and credits earned are recognized and transferable to any Tennessee Board of Regents College or University, as well as the majority of private and public colleges and universities outside of Tennessee in the Southeastern region.

The program began in January 2012 with the college program at Charles Bass Correctional Complex for men in Nashville, Tennessee. At present, courses and credits are offered through Nashville State Community College in Middle Tennessee and Dyersberg State Community College in West Tennessee; Lipscomb University has also offered some courses in our program. Professors are full-time or adjunct at DSCC and 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 until degree completion or release. In order to be admitted to the program, each applicant must take the standard Tennessee college placement exam (ACT/Accuplacer) and place at college level, complete the application, write an essay, maintain a satisfactory disciplinary record, and pay $25 student contribution each semester.

Programs/Degrees Offered: Our program currently offers A.S. degrees in either Business Administration, Psychology, or Political Science. In the immediate future, we plan to partner with a 4-year institution to begin offering B.S. degrees for our students who have earned an Associate’s Degree and wish to continue their education.

Unique Features: Technology is a corner-stone of THEI’s program. Every student has access to a computer lab to complete assignments and receive information from professors. In the summer of 2016, THEI piloted the first internet classes behind bars in Tennessee, and we have since offered a total of seven online courses at Turney Center Industrial Complex. Students in our online courses have access to their online course material as well as the Nashville State Community College student portal, where they are able to access information about their grades and communicate with their professors. This controlled access to internet has allowed our program to expand course offerings and deliver a variety of instructional types.

Headquarters: Based out of Nashville, TN

Correctional Facilities Served: Charles Bass Correctional Complex (Nashville, TN), Turney Center Industrial Complex (Only, TN), Northwest Correctional Complex (Tiptonville, TN)

Population Served: Incarcerated men, most of whom have less than 15 years to release, though a few have life sentences. Charles Bass was a minimum to medium security prison until it was shut down in 2014. The Turney Center is a medium to maximum-security prison, and Northwest Correctional Complex is a medium to maximum-security facility as well. In the future, the program will serve incarcerated men and women who meet the admissions criteria

Number of Students: 115 students currently enrolled

Graduates to Date: In May 2017 we had our first two students earn their Associate’s Degrees. The rest of their cohort of 23 students will graduate by December 2017.

Year Founded: 2012

Founders: Julie Doochin

College/University/Organization Partnerships: Tennessee Higher Education Initiative

Funding: Our program is funded 70% through state and government grants and 30% through private funding.

Program Evaluation: We evaluate completion rates based on the following bench markers: One Semester, 20 hrs, 41-hr General Education Certificate, Associate Degree. We track disciplinary infractions, GPA, and recidivism after one, two, and three years post-release. After every semester we administer student evaluations to get feedback about the courses and the program, and we also have a Student Council that is responsible for communicating concerns between the student body and the program staff.

  • National Directory of Prison Education Programs