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Convicted felons succeeding at Arkansas Baptist College

Imagine going to class with convicted felons. It's happening at Arkansas Baptist College and the school says its working. It is part of a pilot program to give non-violent offenders a chance at a college education.
Imagine going to class with convicted felons.  It's happening at Arkansas Baptist College and the school says its working.  It is part of a pilot program to give non-violent offenders a chance at a college education.

The program brings Arkansas Baptist College together with the Department of Community Correction and Fellowship Bible Church to offer classes to the incarcerated.  And now it's expanding.
 
Other than the brown shirt and pants he's required to wear, Rickie Hill is like any other student at ABC.  Hill, 24, is from Rogers and is one of a handful of men selected to go to college while he is in prison.

"I knew that it would be a chance to plug myself into a positive line instead of going down that negative path that I've been on,” Hill says.

That's what Arkansas Baptist College says the pilot program is designed to do.  The DCC sent 16 to the campus and 11 finished their first year all with a 3.0 GPA or better.  Nine of the students finished with a perfect 4.0.

ABC President Dr. Fitz Hill announced Thursday the college will add women to the program in the fall.

"To tackle this gorilla, it can't just be us,” Hill says.  “We're just taking the lead charge on this, this is a national problem."

After its first year success, ABC is happy. They say the real work begins in seeing where the convict students are in five to 10 years.

"It will be about tracking and following these students all the way through so we can learn," Hill says.

Rickie Hill, no relation to Fitz Hill, feels he has the tools now to make it happen.

"I want to succeed and show them that they haven't wasted their effort,” Hill says.  “I want to do something that's important in life now.  It's actually made me want to strive for something great."

Students have to meet college entrance criteria and can take the credit hours wherever they want when they're released. The Department of Community Correction has facilities in Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Osceola, Texarkana and Fayetteville and only houses non-violent offenders at minimum security facilities. 

“For many felons, it's their last chance for change before being sent to prison,” says Rhonda Sharp with the Arkansas Parole Board which oversees DCC.
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