Cal State LA selected for Obama Administration Second Chance Pell Program

BA program in Lancaster prison

Cal State LA is only university in California to offer an in-person bachelor’s degree program for incarcerated students; program taught at state prison in Lancaster 

Cal State LA is one of several dozen universities across the nation selected to participate in an Obama Administration pilot program to allow incarcerated students to pursue bachelor's degrees and receive Pell Grants to help pay for their education, federal officials announced Friday.

The goal of the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program is to help reduce recidivism rates and make communities safer by educating incarcerated Americans so they can receive jobs and support their families after they are released from prison. Under the program, 67 universities and colleges will partner with more than 141 federal and state penal institutions to educate 12,000 students.

Cal State LA launched an education program in 2015 at the state prison in Lancaster and is the only university in California to offer an in-person bachelor’s degree completion program for incarcerated students. 

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with more than 2.2 million people serving sentences in prisons and jails. A 2013 RAND Corporation study found that incarcerated students who participated in correctional education programs were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who did not take part in such programs.

"The evidence is clear. Promoting the education and job training for incarcerated individuals makes communities safer by reducing recidivism and saves taxpayers dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration," said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.

Said Cal State LA President William A. Covino: “We appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with the Obama Administration on this critical initiative. This will help us advance our mission by providing an outstanding education to eligible students and contribute to the betterment of our communities."

The program was championed in the House of Representatives by Congressman Xavier Becerra, whose 34th Congressional District includes Cal State LA.

“I’m proud that the Department of Education has designated Cal State LA to improve the chances for many of our youth to see college in their future not our criminal justice system. All of our children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, deserve a second chance,” Becerra said.

Cal State LA’s current program is an initiative of the university’s Center for Engagement, Service, and the Public Good in partnership with the College of Professional and Global Education and the College of Arts and Letters. The center was established by Covino shortly after he joined the university in 2013. Its mission is to elevate and improve our communities through programs and initiatives involving students, faculty, staff and the community.

Twenty-five students are currently enrolled in the program at California State Prison, Los Angeles County (Lancaster). The students have earned Associate of Arts degrees and are working toward Bachelor of Arts degrees in communication studies.

“We believe that it’s never too late for a person to transform his or her life by earning a university degree,” Cal State LA Vice President Jose A. Gomez said.

Starting in fall 2018, Cal State LA plans to expand its program to include students at the state prison in Lancaster who are currently enrolled in an Associate of Arts degree program through Antelope Valley College.

Cal State LA receives support for its program from The Opportunity Institute’s Renewing Communities Initiative.


Photo: Students take part in Cal State LA bachelor’s degree program at California State Prison, Los Angeles County in Lancaster. (Credit: J. Emilio Flores/Cal State LA)


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Cal State LA is a university dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 27,000 students and 240,000 distinguished alumni, who are as diverse as the city we serve. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, Cal State LA has long been recognized as an engine of economic and social mobility. Led by an award-winning faculty, the University offers nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education and the humanities.

Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex, TV, Film and Media Center and the Center for Engagement, Service, and the Public Good. For more information, visit