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Earning bachelor’s degrees behind bars on the rise in California

Earning bachelor’s degrees behind bars on the rise in California


Ashley A Smith
August 24, 2023
For years, incarcerated people in California’s state prisons have been able to earn associate degrees.
But a movement to award bachelor’s degrees has been rapidly expanding.
Since 2016, when California State University, Los Angeles, became the first public university in the state to offer bachelor’s degrees to incarcerated people, eight of the state’s 34 adult prisons have started or are soon to begin partnerships that award four-year degrees.
Two programs started last year for women at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla and California Institute for Women in Chino. A new program will debut between Cal Poly Humboldt and Pelican Bay State Prison this spring. Starting next month, CSU Dominguez Hills will debut the state’s first in-prison master’s degree program.
The programs have proven so popular that incarcerated people are eager to enroll. To do so, they have to apply to the university sponsoring the program and must submit essays or references as requested just like any other college student. Students applying to bachelor’s degree programs must have earned an associate degree that is fully transferable.
“We’re like an elite group,” said Kelsey Morasci, an incarcerated student at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, who is enrolled at Fresno State. “The ones that know me are just like, ‘I can do it too.’ … I’m always telling them to get good grades. It’s not an easy slide to getting your BA. You have to achieve it. You have to do the work to get it.”
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