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### Eligibility for Federal Financial Aid Extended to Incarcerated Students in CPH Degree Program

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  • Image credit: College of the Redwoods

  • Inmates participating in the Pelican Bay Scholars program at the College of the Redwoods, which collaborates with Cal Poly Humboldt and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to establish the B.A. pathway initiative.

The incarcerated individuals enrolled in an innovative program at Pelican Bay State Prison, aiming to obtain their bachelor’s degrees from Cal Poly Humboldt, are now the first group in the country eligible for Pell Grants to fund their education.

This access to financial aid became available this summer following the enactment of federal legislation in 2020, overturning a longstanding policy that had prohibited prisoners from receiving such assistance for nearly three decades.

In a statement, Amy Loyd, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, highlighted that this policy change offers the students an opportunity to redefine their future by acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills to thrive and build better lives.

She commended Cal Poly Humboldt for becoming the inaugural institution approved to deliver a Pell-eligible prison education program within a correctional facility nationwide. Loyd emphasized the transformative power of education in changing lives, families, and communities, opening doors to fulfilling careers and meaningful civic engagement.

The initial group of 16 Department of Communications majors commenced their classes this month, marking the first time that inmates in a California maximum security yard— the most restrictive level of incarceration in the state—have access to in-person instruction while pursuing a four-year degree.

Expected to graduate in 2028, these students, who have already completed the College of the Redwoods’ Pelican Bay Scholars program, have been granted access to community college courses at the Crescent City facility since its inception in 2015. Over the years, more than 100 individuals have earned an associate degree through this program.

Tony Wallin-Sato, a CPH graduate with personal experience in incarceration, advocated for the introduction of the four-year degree program at Pelican Bay, emphasizing that education is a potent antidote to recidivism. He was also instrumental in launching the Humboldt chapter of Project Rebound, a program dedicated to enrolling and supporting formerly incarcerated students within the California State University system.

Research indicates that providing educational opportunities in prison significantly reduces the likelihood of reincarceration and enhances job prospects post-release, benefiting not only the individuals but also their families and society at large.

The release from CPH references a study by the RAND Corporation, which reveals that every dollar invested in correctional education results in nearly five dollars saved in reincarceration costs over three years.

Shannon Swain, the superintendent of correctional education at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), expressed the department’s commitment to offering educational opportunities ranging from grade school to graduate school for all incarcerated individuals. Swain lauded the introduction of Pell Grants, which will enable more students to access these transformative programs and achieve their academic aspirations.

In California, nine prisons, including Pelican Bay, collaborate with colleges to provide degree programs, with CPH being the most recent addition to this expanding list. Approximately 13.5 percent of the state’s incarcerated population is currently enrolled in college courses, according to CDCR.

Jenn Capps, the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at CPH, praised the institution for its inclusive approach, emphasizing that the campus defines itself by inclusivity rather than exclusivity. She highlighted the significance of expanding educational access and enhancing outcomes for incarcerated individuals through the launch of the bachelor’s degree program at Pelican Bay, the first of its kind in a Level IV yard in California.

Tony Wallin-Soto, now overseeing CPH’s Project Rebound, views the extension of Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated students not only as a means of securing funding but also as a pivotal shift in perception. He believes it sends a powerful message to students, affirming their place in the classroom and the importance of educational opportunities in reducing recidivism rates.

According to Wallin-Soto, earning a degree before leaving prison can have a monumental impact on individuals, significantly altering their trajectory post-release.