Pioneering CSUDH Program Provides Graduate Education to Incarcerated People
April 01, 2024

Inmates at California prisons now have the opportunity to earn a master’s degree thanks to California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), an ACE member.

In partnership with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the university is offering the state’s first graduate degree designed for incarcerated people, a master of arts in humanities called HUX.

“Too often, incarcerated individuals’ humanity is overlooked with the focus on punishment rather than rehabilitation,” CSUDH President Thomas A. Parham told the Bulletin, the university’s student newspaper. “HUX was founded on the principle that incarcerated students are worthy of investment, education, and rehabilitation.”

Prison education programs declined precipitously after the federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act became law in 1994, but they have seen a resurgence over the last decade. Congress recently repealed legislation that made prisoners ineligible for Pell Grants, enabling thousands of incarcerated people to access more affordable higher education as of July 2023. Postsecondary education in prison produces particularly robust benefits, reducing recidivism by more than 27 percent and increasing the likelihood of employment by 10 percent.

Prisoners used to have access to the original HUX program, which was a correspondence-based degree first offered in 1974. But in 2016, CSUDH decided to sunset it due to declining enrollment. As prison education has expanded in recent years, an increasing number of inmates have earned bachelor’s degrees. A group of these students launched a campaign to continue their education, conducting surveys and writing to numerous institutions. In response to their advocacy, CSUDH’s College of Arts and Humanities partnered with the College of Continuing and Professional Education to modify and relaunch the distance master’s program exclusively for incarcerated students.

HUX kicked off in September 2023 with an initial cohort of 33 students across 11 prisons. Students can apply to HUX as long as they have a bachelor’s degree—whether they earned it in prison or before—and graduated with at least a 2.5 GPA. The degree takes two years to complete, and students can concentrate on subjects that include perspectives on punishment; religion, morality, and spirituality; expanding horizons; and urban development.

Students in the program attest to the transformative effect of the education they have received.

“I just think that with 30 years of imprisonment, I’ve seen people change,” Darrell Dortell Williams, a student at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, told the Los Angeles Times. “It can be because they fell in love. It can be just because of maturity and the natural stages of growing older. But I think overall, education has had the biggest impact on all of our lives.”

Because prison security protocols restrict the use of video calls and other synchronous tools, HUX students work more independently than students in a typical online course. Students receive laptops to complete their coursework, which entails asynchronous video lessons, discussion boards, written assignments, and regular one-on-one check-ins with professors. Matthew Luckett, HUX program coordinator and director, said he aims to introduce opportunities for students to interact more with each other and have some lessons in person as soon as next year.

The degree costs approximately $10,500. Students can receive financial aid from the California Department of Rehabilitation, and nearly every student in the current cohort received enough aid to cover the cover the cost of their tuition and books.

The program’s architects intend to equip students who complete the degree with the skills to communicate and advocate effectively, whether within prison, for those serving life sentences, or post-release. They hope that HUX will inspire similar programs across the country.

“Few programs, academic or otherwise, have as high of a return on investment as prison education programs,” Luckett told CSUDH. “Our students don’t just stay out of jail—they become leaders in their communities.”​