Siena Heights University (SHU) has recently had a new location approved by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) for the “Rising Education Program” (REP).

REP is an extension of the federal Second Chance Pell Program and a partnership between the Michigan Department of Corrections and Jackson College.

Since February of 2022, Siena Heights has offered a Corrections Education Program for those incarcerated in Michigan prisons, which allows inmates to continue their education through Siena Heights after completing an associate degree in general business through Jackson College. Those involved in REP will receive a Bachelor’s in Business Administration (BBA) upon completion of the program.

In the beginning of January 2023, the HLC approved another Michigan Department of Corrections facility located at Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson, Michigan. In having this location recognized, Siena Heights University’s Rising Education Program is able to expand their breadth of their services to inmates who might not have had equal access or opportunity to education in the past.

The decision to expand was made as a result of classroom space limitations, as well as expanding educational access to higher security level prisoner-students.

“Extending our presence to multiple facilities will allow Siena’s mission to reach more incarcerated students making an even greater and more positive impact on society as a whole,” said Dr. Cheri Betz, the Executive Vice President of Siena Heights University. 

The first REP cohort began with 16 students at Cooper Street Correctional Facility in Jackson, Michigan. Now, the third cohort is set to begin at the newly approved Cotton Correctional Facility and will increase the size of REP to just under 40 students.

REP continues to work hard to advocate for the inmates, going so far as to coordinate a graduation ceremony with the Department of Corrections staff in April, as the first cohort is set to complete their coursework and earn their degrees. Additionally, REP is in the beginning stages of collaborating with Siena Heights University’s Career Services and Office of Diversity and Inclusion, so all programs and services may be available to this population of students.

Jim Gornick, SHU’s associate director of REP, is uniquely qualified to hold this position and spearhead the development of REP. Before his current role with SHU, Gornick served for many years in the Michigan correctional system as a school principal. He worked at corrections facilities across the state, including in Jackson, Ionia, Saginaw, and Lapeer. While there, he helped prisoners complete either their high school diplomas or GEDs. However, Gornick recognized that of those who did have high school degrees or GEDs, only about 6% had a postsecondary degree. Therefore, there was a large percentage of the incarcerated who might have interest in furthering their education. Of this observation, REP was born.

Of having the new location approved by the Higher Learning Commission, Gornick said: “This move to a second facility will allow us to expand our reach to a higher-level population and provide hope and direction to all of our Siena Heights students who reside there.”

Siena Heights University is excited about this newly approved location and all the opportunities it will bring, as well as the continued success of REP.