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In the Spotlight

Ralph Bales &
Bruce Toney

Employees earn graduate degrees through scholarship program

Give Ralph Bales and Bruce Toney an “A” for achievement.

In August, after two years of study, the two graduated from Sam Houston State University (SHSU) in Huntsville with master’s degrees in criminal justice management. They were the first TDCJ employees to earn their graduate degrees through a scholarship program that allowed them to work full-time during the week and attend classes tuition-free every other weekend.

Bales and Toney standing outside in front of State Seal sign
TDCJ Safe Prisons Program Manager Ralph Bales, left, and Office of Inspector General regional manager Bruce Toney earned master’s degrees in August through Sam Houston State University’s Criminal Justice Management Weekend Program.
Photo by David Nunnelee
Scholarships covering the cost of tuition for TDCJ employees accepted into the SHSU Masters of Criminal Justice Management Weekend Program were first awarded in 2004. In exchange for the financial support, Bales, the agency’s Safe Prisons Program manager, and Toney, a regional manager for the Office of the Inspector General in Huntsville, were required to maintain at least a 3.3 grade point average and complete the degree program in two years.

“You definitely earn that degree,” Toney said. “There is a tremendous amount of reading and writing required. You have no family or social life during the program because when you get home from work you eat supper and then you pick up a book. You’re either reading or typing a paper. In one class, we covered a new text book every two weeks.”

“Our families had to be understanding because there were times when I wouldn’t see my wife for three or four days,” Bales said. “I would come in, eat supper, and start studying. And I’d still be studying when she went to sleep. But today, my wife wouldn’t trade a minute of it. She’s so proud of what Bruce and I accomplished.”

Bales, 50, had never really considered working toward a master’s degree. In fact, he didn’t earn his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and psychology from SHSU until early 2004, a full 30 years after he graduated from high school.

“One of my goals was to go back and finish my bachelor’s,” said the 20-year TDCJ veteran. “I never really thought much more about going beyond that. But when I got back into school at a later age, and I finished my bachelor’s, it was like I just had this new thirst for learning.”

For Toney, 39, who also has a bachelor’s degree in business management, a master’s degree was always part of the picture. After working five years as a police officer in Abilene, he joined TDCJ in August 1994 as an OIG investigator at the Robertson Unit. He was later transferred to a criminal task force in Fort Worth and actually enrolled in a master’s program at the University of North Texas before being transferred back to Abilene soon thereafter. He was transferred to the OIG office in Huntsville in June 2004 and joined Bales in the master’s program at SHSU two months later.

Bales describes his and Toney’s graduation day as “sweet.”

“I used to think that there was a mystic about people who earned master’s degrees and doctorates,” Bales said. “What I learned is that it just takes dedication and commitment. It takes hard work, but anyone can do it.”

Six other TDCJ employees and one with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles have been awarded tuition-free scholarships since 2004. The first graduates say their two years of study left them with open minds, awash in new ideas, and feeling refreshed.

“It made us think again,” Bales said. “I learned things in these last two years that I just couldn’t have learned anywhere else. What this gave me was the thirst for knowledge, the thirst to grow, and the thirst to learn more. I hope I never lose that because that’s something this program instilled in me.”

“I would encourage those seeking a management career in TDCJ to pursue the program,” Toney said. “I think it would probably be the best investment that they could make.”

Since 2004, Sam Houston State University, in partnership with the Correctional Management Institute of Texas, has selected scholarship recipients from a list of nominated employees provided by TDCJ each year. The scholarships cover tuition only. Selected employees are responsible for books, fees and other related costs.

To be considered for a nomination, employees were required to provide a letter of interest to the TDCJ Human Resources Director, along with an official transcript of a completed Bachelor’s degree and a copy of the employee’s current performance evaluation. Employees were required to explain why they were interested in achieving a Masters of Criminal Justice Degree and the benefit to the TDCJ. The TDCJ provided a list of nominated employees to SHSU, and the final decisions were made by SHSU.

TDCJ Qualifying Criteria

  • Must have at least 10 years of service with agency.

  • Must have demonstrated agency leadership and have been recognized for outstanding performance in a current performance evaluation. Outstanding performance is defined as a minimum rating of “somewhat exceeds standards” in all areas evaluated and a rating of “exceeds standards” in at least 50 percent of areas considered essential functions.

  • Required to have a Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score on file (verifiable by SHSU) no later than May 1st. The SHSU Criminal Justice Graduate Program website ( includes a link to the GRE homepage, which includes information on testing center locations (e.g., Texas A&M University, Texas Southern University).

Other Criteria

  • Continued financial support for employees selected for scholarships is contingent on their ability to maintain at least a 3.3 grade point average and completing the degree program in two years. At least two classes must be completed each semester as required by the Master’s of Criminal Justice curriculum.

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