Where ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ students seek degrees together

Incarcerated and on-campus students learn together in Claremont Colleges' 'Inside-Out Pathway-to-BA'
By: | December 10, 2020

Incarcerated Californians will seek bachelor’s degrees in a prison classroom alongside Claremont Colleges students in the nation’s first “inside-out” higher ed program.

Pitzer College’s Inside-Out Pathway-to-BA initiative on Thursday enrolled its first cohort of eight students from the California Rehabilitation Center near Los Angeles.

The new program, part of the Claremont Justice Education Initiative, consists of an equal number of “inside” and “outside” students in each course.

Claremont College professors will teach their regular curriculum in a prison classroom and via online video-conferencing during COVID.


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“Pitzer is demonstrating that there is a sustainable way for colleges and universities to build degree programs in prisons and better serve the needs of their traditional students,” said Nigel Boyle, Pitzer professor of political studies and head of the program. “Widely replicated, this model can have a crucial role in moving the U.S. away from this cycle of mass incarceration.”

Many colleges offer insidfe-out classes, but this is the first full degree program, Boyle said.

“This model is sustainable,” he said. “Other institutions can start doing this, particularly if they collaborate.”

‘Path to a better future’

To enroll, the incarcerated students, who attend for free, must have earned up to three years of college credits—two years from a community college and up to one year of credits from four-year institutions.

They go through the same application process as on-campus students, follow the same academic policies, and must earn the same 32 credits to graduate.

The students in the initial cohort, who are expected to graduate by the end of 2021, are working toward degrees in organizational studies, a businerss-focused interdisciplinary course focusing on administrative, economic, political, psychological and sociological subject.

Courses, which are among the most popular in the consortium, in the program are taught by professors from Pitzer, Pomona, Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd and Scripps colleges.

The program aligns with Pitzer’s educational objectives in social and racial justice, “and the ethical implications of knowledge and action,” said the college’s president, Melvin L. Oliver.

“Our Claremont students and faculty get the experience of a unique pedagogy and academic environment, and it provides inside students a path to a better future,” Oliver said.


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The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with nearly 1.5 million people in state and federal prisons in 2018, according to Department of Justice data.

Following their release, 86% of prisoners will be rearrested in three years.

Correctional education programs reduce the inmates’ chances of returning to prison, and significantly increase the odds of obtaining meaningful employment upon release, according to A RAND Corporation study.