Bachelors degree pathway created for students incarcerated at Pelican Bay

Project Rebound will be launching a new degree program called “Pathways Program” in Spring 2024 that will specifically cater to incarcerated students at Pelican Bay State Prison. These students are recent graduates from the College of the Redwood’s Pelican Bay Scholars program in Crescent City, CA.

“Eight years ago, the College of the Redwoods started with one class and 25 students,” said Steve Ladwig, director of the transformative and restorative education center for Project Rebound. “Now, they have 40 classes and up to 500 students taking classes. Our plan is to bring in more degrees.”

Cal Poly Humboldt instructors will bring the classrooms to Pelican Bay and students will be given the opportunity to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

This program is being offered to other correctional facilities by seven other universities across the state, including Fresno State, Sacramento State, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), UC Irvin and UC San Diego. UCLA was the first to implement this higher education program in 2016 and other prison advocates have worked hard to launch similar educational programs to their neighboring correctional facilities.

As of September 2023, CSU Dominguez Hills began to offer a Master’s Degree Program for inmates via correspondence (mail-in assignments).

“We took it upon ourselves to start this program because we have connections statewide, also on various committees, and with the other universities that are providing similar educational opportunities,” said Tony Wallin-Sato, program director at project rebound.

These programs are funded by the State and Pell Grants and are receiving support from California Governor, Gavin Newson.

Historically, it’s been difficult for newly-released prisoners to gain employment because there are little to no employment opportunities that pay enough to survive in California which has a higher cost of living compared to other states across the United States.

“Education is my lifeline,” said Ladwig as he read a quote from one of the many essays submitted by an incarcerated students, which is a requirement for entry to the program.

He explained, Pelican Bay students will be held to the same standards as campus students. “The success rate is high when comparing GPAs of on-campus students to incarcerated students, their GPAs are well above 3.5.”

Opportunities to earn a bachelor’s degree while incarcerated are not common. Like all students, incarcerated students can earn their degree and have more opportunities to end the cycle of recidivism and avoid criminal lifestyles.

“There are some amazing human beings there and I know they’re going to do incredible work,” said Mark Taylor, youth outreach coordinator at Project Rebound. “We believe they’re going to outperform the average student that is not facing these kinds of challenges.”

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