By C.S. Bryson
The recent inaugural graduation ceremony for the California State University Sacramento’s Transforming Outcomes Project at Sacramento State (TOPSS), at Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP) in lone, California, was a monumental achievement for both the university and its incarcerated students. TOPSS is a face-to-face Bachelor of Arts (BA) program that allows incarcerated students to earn a BA degree in Communication Studies. The Communication Studies department is the largest in the school’s College of Arts & Letters, with incarcerated students able to potentially earn their degrees in four to five semesters. The incarcerated students at MCSP have worked under the guidance of Acting Director of the TOPSS program, S. David Zuckerman, Ph.D. as they worked in cohorts toward graduation. Now in its fourth cohort, with the first two cohorts walking in the May 2023 ceremony, the graduating students’ focus is shifting to the next level of higher education, mastery.
California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), is providing an opportunity for participation in a Master of Arts in Humanities (HUX) program designed for students incarcerated in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), with its first cohort to begin in fall of 2023. The HUX program will be a distance learning program that will be offered both digitally and via correspondence. Students housed at correctional institutions with laptops and Wi-Fi access will receive digital versions of course materials, while students at institutions without digital equipment will be able to receive the same content via postal mail. The class discussions that typically comprise a master’s program curriculum will be facilitated through the individual professors, due to CDCR’s policies against direct student-to-student communication between students at different facilities.
The program is being implemented following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between CDCR and CSUDH, which enables the university to begin offering its newly developed HUX MA program by utilizing CDCR’s educational infrastructure and the CSU Canvas online portal. The program has plans to admit a maximum of 25 students per cohort each year. The program is designed to be as affordable as possible for incarcerated students. The university has declared a commitment to not seeking to generate a profit from the program, however must still charge tuition to cover its operational costs. Requiring around 30 credit hours, or the equivalent of ten classes for completion, the cost to students will be $350 per credit hour, or $1050 per course. This totals around $10,500 for program tuition costs, with additional costs for book and supplies pushing the total to an estimated $11,000. The HUX program is designed to allow incarcerated students to pay in installments over a four to five year plan, with the caveat that students remain enrolled for every semester that they are in the program and take no more than five years to complete the program.
The recent legislative changes that allowed for the use of Pell Grants for incarcerated students will not be applicable to the HUX program, as Pell Grants are not available for master’s degree programs, even to students who are not incarcerated. HUX has expressed its dedication to coordinate support for its students and build an alternate funding infrastructure for the program, with ultimate hopes to be able to waive tuition costs. Potential students at MCSP are
researching scholarship and grant opportunities with the assistance of MCSP Post-Secondary Continuing Education Instructor, K. Godwin.
CSUS TOPSS Class of 2023 graduate, Luke Aaron Scott described his experience as a member of the original cohort at MCSP. “I remember when it was just me and Alex Baeza. That was it. We were the only ones in the whole program, and it started out with just books, pencils, and paper, no laptops, no Canvas, no Wi-Fi.” Fellow Class of 2023 graduate, Alexandro A. Baeza added, “WE DID IT! My fellow peer Luke Scott and I adjusted to the transfer from C-Yard, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the academic rigor. Then the TOPSS expanded, and continued to flourish… Bryson, Junior, Angie, Mike, Jesse, Jacob, Rick, Perry, Angel, Dew, Robert, Hollie, King, Dasenbrock, and Tony…WE DID IT!”
Looking forward, the students will explore topics that represent the various aspects of the Humanities, such as Religion, Morality, and Spirituality; Perspectives on Punishment; Urban Development; and Expanding Horizons. Students will be allowed to construct a unique course schedule that encompasses their individual interests and goals. Under HUX Program Director, Dr. Matthew Luckett, the incarcerated students will be held to the same academic standards as any other students in their endeavors to master higher education from inside a carceral setting.
C.S. Bryson is incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison