Lake Land brings educational opportunities to department of corrections

Matthew Harvey, Multimedia Manager

In the 2017-2018 Academic year, there were close to 15,000 students that enrolled in Lake Land College programs. Thanks to the school’s partnership with the Illinois Department of Corrections, over one-third of those students were able to receive their Lake Land education while incarcerated.

According to the Lake Land College Annual Enrollment Report, Lake Land College’s DOC program serves over 5,000 students throughout 20 of the 28 Correctional Facilities within the state of Illinois. Since beginning at Lake Land in 2010, Dean of the Correctional Program Jennifer Billingsley, has overseen the program’s steady growth from just fifteen facilities at her introduction. “We’ve gotten to the point now where there’s wait-lists for each and every program,” says Billingsley, remarking the unanimous popularity of the programs.

Billingsley is a Western Illinois University alum, and former associate dean for the Western Illinois Correctional Center.“I’ve spent half of my career in corrections,” Billingsley says. “The most significant characteristic about working with Lake Land’s program is the dedication to their values.”

Billingsley works alongside Brandon Young who serves as Dean of Correctional Programs for facilities in the south half of the state.

“A major part of our responsibilities is going to visit each facility and meeting the students,” says Billingsley. “They get to know me, and I get to know them. I’ve received letters from former students telling me about their success upon re-entering society.”

The success of that re-entry is crucial to both the Department of Corrections, and Lake Land’s program in particular. Many students are natives of the Chicagoland area, and receive post-completion job placement assistance through the Roosevelt University Life Skill Center. Each year, facilities host a reentry summit which includes workshops, vendors with the main goal of ensuring a smooth transition. Lake Land attends these summits to share their program with potential students, and provide job placement info for those on the way out.

“Each student must have a GED or high school diploma to apply to the program,” says Billingsley. “In addition to a Liberal Arts Associate’s degree program, we also offer numerous vocational programs that often take less than a year to complete.”

For many students, though, Billingsley notices significant improvements well before their completion of the program, and even with students who don’t complete it at all.

“There are changes in behavior and attitude almost immediately,” says Billingsley. “Just like any traditional student, there’s concern about grades and studying, but within a few weeks of the program they gain some confidence in their own ability to succeed.”

In Billingsley’s eyes, the goal of the program is clear. “We’re trying to make them as well-rounded as possible, so that they no longer need us,” says Billingsley.

“We want our students to have every opportunity to succeed in the workplace. Whatever barrier their incarceration is, our goal is to give them credentials and skill sets that will help them overcome, and become good citizens in general.”

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