Jim Yeonopolus

Jim Yeonopolus, chancellor of Central Texas College

Central Texas College Chancellor Jim Yeonopolus recently completed his service on the governor-appointed Task Force on Academic Credit and Industry Recognition for offenders. Created by House Bill 553 during the 85th Texas Legislative Session in 2017, the task force undertook a four-year process to explore the current rehabilitation and education programs in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The group’s final report was sent to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last month.

The 10-member task force was comprised of various representatives from key areas of support within TDCJ and higher education. The goal was to identify opportunities for awarding high school or college credit or industry-recognized credentials or certificates. The task force discussed current data, the benefits to post-secondary training for offenders on parole and identified areas for improvements and recommendations.

As part of the task force, Yeonopolus was able to provide further insight to the success of offering academic benefits to incarcerated students as CTC currently offers higher educational degree and vocational certificate opportunities to inmates across four TDCJ units in Gatesville.

“CTC faculty and staff work with the student inmates in all aspects of the college experience from placement testing to graduation, funding issues, scheduling issues and personal issues,” said Yeonopolus. “Most of our academic students in the Gatesville units complete their associate in general studies degree, although some complete theirs in interdisciplinary studies as well. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, CTC averaged about 20 graduates in Gatesville each year.”

With first-hand experience serving inmates, CTC and the Windham School District served as the backbone for the task force in evaluating credit.

“Windham provides high school and GED components of the education process while CTC has been offering higher education courses,” said Yeonopolus. “With our combined experience, we were better able to orchestrate the credit evaluation process to ensure all aspects of an inmate’s work history, experience and prior education are taken into consideration.

“Many of the inmates have previous vocational credit, MOS credit from their time in the military and others had been working 10 to 15 years in vocational fields thus possessing the skills and training but no license. All of these attributes were considered during the credit-granting evaluation process.”

At the core of the CTC program is providing offenders with skills and credentials that will make them more employable.

“It is with that mindset with which we entered the initial process,” said Yeonopolus. “And not only do these students reap the educational gains, and the possibility of better employment opportunities, they are able to receive a creative and intellectual component otherwise missing in their current setting.”

Now that members of the Task Force on Academic Credit and Industry Recognition have submitted their final report, the group is awaiting further guidance from Abbott. Membership terms are set to expire on Dec. 1.

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