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Home / News / Education / UC Riverside to offer degree program at state prison in Norco

UC Riverside to offer degree program at state prison in Norco

by Staff
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The University of California, Riverside, is set to begin a program this fall that will offer a Bachelor of Arts program to inmates at a state prison in Norco, school officials announced last week.

UCR will join the 1% of U.S. colleges and universities offering a college degree program that can be completed from inside prison walls, officials said. Incarcerated students at the Norco California Rehabilitation Center, or Norco CRC, soon will have the opportunity to earn a bachelor of arts degree in education, society and human development, with a concentration in social justice.

The program will be available to approximately 25 students who have earned an associate’s degree or equivalent credential that was provided to inmates by educators from Norco College, one of three schools in the Riverside Community College District. So far 36 former Norco CRC students have applied for transfers to UCR. 

“We are extending access to a Bachelor of Arts degree to a highly motivated group of students who are working very hard to turn their lives around through a UC college education. We believe a program like this is well overdue in Inland Southern California,” Joi Spencer, dean of UCR’s School of Education, said in a statement. 

Faculty from the UCR School of Education and the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences will teach the Norco CRC courses, which will be offered as part of UCR’s approved curriculum for an education major, according to UCR spokesman David Danelski. Course instruction will take place at the prison facility. 

The BA degree program at the Norco prison furthers UCR’s mission to bring a first-rate university education to students of color from disadvantaged backgrounds, Amos Lee — an assistant professor of teaching in UCR’s School of Education and co-founding director of the UCR program Leveraging Inspiring Futures Through Educational Degrees, or LIFTED — said in a statement.

“Extending this opportunity to students behind bars is a logical and prescient expansion of UCR’s mission, further expanding its reach in the target area of Inland Southern California,” Lee said.

The Norco degree program is the second bachelor’s degree initiative that a UC school has offered inside a prison. The first was UC Irvine’s LIFTED program, which began in fall 2022 at the Ronald J. Donovan Correctional Facility near the Mexican border southeast of San Diego.

Funding for the prison education effort is from a $150,000 grant UC Riverside secured from the UC Irvine LIFTED program, plus $25,000 from the Michelson 20MM Foundation, according to school officials.

Norco student-inmates must pay standard tuition and course enrollment fees, but university officials expected education costs to be covered via the UC Blue and Gold Opportunity financial aid plan and federal Pell grants. Congress expanded Pell grant availability to incarcerated students in 2020.

Upwards of 95% of people incarcerated in California will return to communities throughout the state, Lee said. Providing access to a UC college degree can enhance job prospects after inmates are released, leading to economic security and better lives for these students and their families.  

Farah Godrej, co-founding director of UCR LIFTED and professor of political science, added that the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education in California called for a balance between “fostering excellence with guaranteeing educational access for all.” But the promise of a college education for “anyone from anywhere” was not an option in California’s numerous prisons until just recently.

“We seek to extend ‘access’ by including those who are incarcerated, so that they too may enjoy the benefits of a first-rate college education offered by the University of California,” Godrej said in a statement.

More information on the Norco prison education project is at https://education.ucr.edu.

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