Dallas County inmates attend classes as part of a partnership between El Centro College and the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department.
El Centro College and Mountain View College
Credit and noncredit workforce training courses for inmates
In 1973, El Centro College partnered with the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department to create an innovative education program for inmates.
For more than 40 years, the program has provided educational opportunities and workforce training skills to inmates of the Dallas County Jail to help them become assets to the community on release. It now also serves as a platform for promoting higher education.
The contractual agreement is for two years with two subsequent two-year renewal options. The sheriff’s department has approved $300,000 each year to provide level-one certificate and noncredit training.
El Centro provides an on-site project leader and program coordinator, part-time instructors, textbooks, computers and technical support. Areas include information technology, business office support systems, food handling safety and sanitation, art, graphic design, workplace preparation, and critical thinking skills. In the past 15 years, training has been expanded to offer certificate programs such as Information Technology Support and Support Specialist, Office Assistant and Software Application Specialist.
One of the greatest challenges has been for instructional staff to adjust to the unique teaching atmosphere. The college holds monthly professional development staff activities to address the challenges of teaching an incarcerated population. All instruction and materials must also provide inmates viable technological skills. El Centro has committed to providing state-of-the-art computers, software and textbooks as well as qualified faculty. Instructors constantly modify course material to align with workforce demand in business and technology.
El Centro is working with Inmate Services to identify and add more training programs to meet in-demand workforce needs in the North Texas area.
When the program began in 1973, it had one dedicated computer lab with a staff of two teaching 26 students. It now encompasses six computer labs, 14 classrooms for lecture-based courses, four art rooms and a staff exceeding 50 instructors teaching more than 350 students.
To expand course offerings and teach more students, additional resources were identified by both partners. Additional space was funded by the sheriff’s department through an increased contract, with El Centro investing equipment, staff and classroom supplies. To prepare the new instructional and support staff necessitated by the expansion, El Centro created an integrated training model involving the sheriff’s department and college policies.
“ The sheriff’s department has coordinated a strategic plan with El Centro College and DCCCD to predict what its best opportunities are for growth to provide workforce skills, training and opportunities to special populations. We forecast the expanded partnership will fill a significant need in preparing our target populations to enter the workforce and work through the pressing challenges they must deal with day to day. ”
El Centro College Bill J. Priest Campus Continuing and Workforce Education 972-860-5900
General Educational Development (GED) classes and testing services for Dallas County inmates
To meet defined educational goals for its clientele, the inmate services department first contacted Mountain View in 2012 to provide testing for inmates receiving GED instruction from DISD’s Texas Education Association Adult Basic Education grant.
Mountain View partnered with Inmate Services in 2013 to conduct on-site GED testing for inmates through contract training. An expanded contractual agreement executed in 2014 includes full-service GED instruction as well as testing.
The current contract training agreement funds $262,500 over three and a half years for ongoing GED instruction and testing, with addendums as needed for student population growth. On-site laptop computers with safety storage cabinets, testing materials, workbooks and instructors are provided by the college.
On-site paper GED testing was carried out in 2013-2014. Under the current contract, GED classes are taught Monday through Friday for both male and female inmates, and online testing began in November 2014. Instruction includes language arts, writing, mathematics, reading, social studies and science.
Mountain View quickly stepped up to the challenge to fill a vacancy left by a previous GED testing vendor and provided solutions as national testing regulations changed. Since the college already served as an official GED testing site, it worked with the GED National Testing Service to secure approval to transport paper tests to the sheriff’s department as an extended college testing site. As of January 2014, GED testing was updated to online only. The college did not lose a step with its partner in moving over to online testing; with the new contract it allotted funds for computers and IT installation.
Relationship building, trust, relevant instruction and program growth are critical elements to success. The college recently worked with DCCCD Workforce Training to offer CNC Machine Shop and Sustainability Gardening courses beginning in January 2015.
Interdepartmental support is crucial within the college to build a large training partnership. Critical components include contract development, legal review, board approval preparation, management review, and IT alignment on new projects and skill levels, all of which can be potential roadblocks to success if not addressed quickly and efficiently.
“ Through our strategic planning process with Mountain View College, we anticipate successfully reaching our GED training completion goals, setting new goals for continued growth, and navigating through any barriers preventing us from reaching our goals. ”
Mountain View College Workforce and Continuing Education 972-860-8529