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Professor from UVA’s Darden School of Business Sends MBA Students to Prison to Teach Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship education is spreading like wildfire, with top business schools enhancing their offerings by launching new institutes, expanding curriculum components and investing more in business incubators. A professor at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville sees no reason why it should stop there. Through a program he launched last year, he’s sending Darden students armed with the case study method into prisons to teach inmates how to start small businesses.

Greg Fairchild, associate professor at Darden, studies entrepreneurship and business development in inner cities and other underserved areas and has published on topics ranging from the effects of residential segregation on entrepreneurship to the evolution of community development financial institutions (CDFIs). Last year, Fairchild and a group of students traveled to Houston to visit a nonprofit called Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), which recruits MBA students from around the country to help inmates develop business plans. PEP’s goal is to reduce recidivism by equipping inmates with business and life skills they can use upon release. According to PEP’s annual report, only 5 percent of its graduates end up back in jail, compared to the 25 percent of overall inmates released from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice who return to prison within three years.

The outgrowth of Fairchild’s visit to PEP was a new program at Darden called Resilience Education, through which Darden MBAs provide entrepreneurship education for inmates at two prisons in Virginia. To qualify, inmates must first complete the prison’s vocational education program.

“A lot of the students say they have never been in a classroom where they have felt this engaged before,” Fairchild told Bloomberg BusinessWeek. “The inmates feel inspired that Darden students and faculty are coming to see them and teaching.”

Rates of recidivism are even greater in Virginia than they are in Texas, with about 29 percent of inmates returning to prison within three years, according to Bloomberg BW. Fairchild hopes to see that rate drop below 10 percent for graduates of the Resilience Education program, he told Bloomberg BW, although it’s too soon to tell the program’s success since none of the participating inmates have been released yet. Fairchild told Bloomberg BW that he doesn’t have immediate plans to increase the size of the program beyond the 11 MBA volunteers it now includes, though he’d be happy to see other business schools embrace similar efforts.

Fairchild will deliver a seminar entitled “Entrepreneurship Education in the Prison System” next month in Houston as part of Darden’s Ideas to Action Speakers Forum.

Read the Bloomberg BusinessWeek article, “Business School, Behind Bars.”

Learn more about Darden’s Ideas to Action Speakers Forum.

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Posted in: MBA News

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