Achieving a college degree in prison is rare, but soon incarcerated people in California can earn their master's degrees.
California State University, Dominguez Hills, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation have announced a partnership to launch the state's first master's degree program for incarcerated people.
Corrections Secretary Jeff Macomber said the partnership furthers the state's prison system's goal to expand "grade school to grad school" opportunities.
"These efforts are vital, as education serves as a powerful rehabilitative tool," Macomber said.
Research shows that prison programs reduce recidivism rates and help formerly incarcerated people find jobs and improve their families' lives once they are released. Those studies show that incarcerated people are 48 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than those who didn't attend a college program in prison.
All 33 of the state's adult prisons offer the ability for the system's 95,600 incarcerated people to earn community college degrees; about 13.5 percent are enrolled in a college course. The state has been expanding its offerings of college in prisons. Eight partnerships with state universities have begun since 2016 to offer bachelor's degrees to incarcerated people. About 230 are enrolled in a bachelor's degree program for the current semester.
The new Dominguez Hills program will allow all people in all 33 prisons who have already earned a bachelor's degree and have at least a 2.5 GPA, to earn a Master of Arts in humanities. The students will participate in two years of courses, including urban development, religion, morality and spirituality. The classes will take place over Zoom or through written correspondence.
Tuition for the program is about $10,500 and students or their families will be responsible for covering the costs. However, the corrections department said that it may provide some assistance.
The university is also accepting donations to go toward incarcerated students' tuition. Because these are post-bachelor's degree courses, the incarcerated students do not qualify for the state's Cal Grant or federal Pell Grant programs.
"Our mission is firmly anchored in social justice," said Thomas Parham, president of Cal State Dominguez Hills. "This historic partnership between California State University and CDCR benefits students -- and ultimately their families and communities -- by distinguishing between what people did and who they are at the core of their being, and recognizing their potential, cultivating their talents and preparing them to thrive in their paths moving forward."
Parham said it was important for the university to provide advanced learning opportunities in prisons because the campus is focused on "transforming lives."