Pitzer launches US’ first bachelor’s program for incarcerated individuals

Pitzer College, one of America’s top liberal arts schools, has just created the first-ever bachelor’s program for incarcerated individuals at the California Rehabilitation Center (CRC) in Norco, California. There, inmates can earn a degree from Pitzer right alongside other college students.

Called the Pitzer Inside-Out Pathway-to-BA, the program uses virtual learning to welcome incarcerated individuals into the classroom with other university students. Made possible by the expansion of online learning during the pandemic, incarcerated students video chat into their lectures and experience a face-to-face virtual college education at a top university. The first cohort of graduates are expected to earn their degrees by the end of 2021. 

The newest program is part of the Claremont Colleges’ intercollegiate Justice Education Initiative (JEI). The inside-out program allows students to earn college credit regardless of whether they are seeking a degree. This way, if students decide to go on to pursue a degree after they leave prison, they will have those credits to put towards their goal. 

To commemorate the new program, Pitzer held a virtual “college acceptance letter” ceremony last week hosted by Pitzer College President Melvin L. Oliver and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Superintendent Shannon Swain. 

In a press release, Oliver said, “Pitzer Inside-Out Pathway-to-BA is at the heart of the College’s educational objectives and core values, particularly social and racial justice, social responsibility and the ethical implications of knowledge and action.”

Like other Pitzer students, prospective program participants must undergo an application process and complete the 32-course requirement to earn their degree. The first cohort of graduates will leave the program with degrees in organizational studies, an interdisciplinary major focusing on administrative, economic, political, psychological, and sociological factors.

The US has an incredibly high incarceration rate and unfortunately, many incarcerated individuals will be re-arrested after serving time. Educational programs in prisons result in 43 percent lower odds of recidivating, so programs like this one are critical for reducing incarceration, especially among vulnerable populations. 

Graduates who leave prison with a Pitzer degree under their belt will be incredibly advantaged in the job market where previously-incarcerated individuals often have a difficult time finding meaningful work. 

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