TULSA, Oklahoma - Cody Zimmer happens to be just one of 57 students at Dick Conner Correctional Center in Hominy, Oklahoma graduating with a certificate or a degree from Tulsa Community College. 

The ceremony was on Thursday, July 20. It was the largest group since the TCC Corrections Education program opened its doors in 2007 as a partnership with the Corrections facility. 

This commencement marks the completion of the Business User Certificate, a six-credit-hour program. Several of the men earned an additional nine credit-hour Landscape Design Specialist Certificate as well, that includes work in a greenhouse on the prison grounds and one even earned an associate degree. 

“Offenders who go through TCC’s program are taught and mentored by experienced business professionals and gain marketable skills while incarcerated,” TCC President & CEO Leigh B. Goodson, Ph.D. said. “The certificate and degree options available in the TCC Corrections Education are designed to help offenders find employment upon release.”

This past year, TCC was one of 67 colleges and universities nationwide to participate in a pilot program in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education allowing eligible incarcerated Americans to receive Pell Grants to pursue post-secondary education. 

“During this first year in the pilot program, we had tremendous participation as evidenced by the higher number of graduates,” Jeff Horvath, TCC Corrections Education Coordinator said. “The Pell Grant pilot program is not replacing what we have been doing since 2007 but adding additional opportunities to help meet demand and impact more lives.”

Oklahoma ranks fifth in the nation for incarcerated men. Also, because Oklahoma reduces an inmate's sentence for earning an associate degree, approximately one year is reduced from their sentence, which saves the state thousands of dollars. 

New York Times best-selling author and motivational speaker Chef Jeff Henderson was the speaker for the commencement ceremony. He shared the story of how he spent nearly a decade in prison. 

Henderson has been the keynote speaker at the Conner graduation ceremony for eight of the past 10 years. He is involved in mentoring and encouraging incarcerated individuals in Oklahoma as well as across the country.

Over 500 students have participated in this program with 17 earning an associate degree and 386 earning a certificate. TCC's Corrections Education Program started including women in 2009 and also works with individuals from the Turley Residential Center and Women in Recovery.