Cuesta College continues to fulfill its mission to provide access to education by participating in a new nation-wide program allowing prison inmates to take college courses via federal funding. Along with 67 colleges and universities around the country, Cuesta College was one of only five in California recently chosen to take part in the Second Chance Pell pilot program, a national experiment that aims to reduce recidivism for inmates by providing postsecondary education and training programs. Beginning in the spring of 2017, selected California Men’s Colony (CMC) inmates will receive Pell Grant funds to cover the costs of Cuesta College courses and books.

“We are very pleased to be selected as one of the pilot colleges in implementing the Second Chance Pell Grant initiative,” said Cuesta College Superintendent/President Dr. Gil Stork.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, “the Second Chance Pell program will test whether participation in high quality education programs increases after expanding access to financial aid for incarcerated individuals. The pilot program will allow eligible incarcerated Americans to receive Pell Grants and pursue postsecondary education with the goal of helping them get jobs and support their families when they are released.” According to a 2013 study by the RAND Corporation, funded by the Department of Justice, incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who did not participate in any correctional education programs.

“Society becomes safer when inmates are released with employable skills,” said Dr. Stork. “Cuesta College is currently working directly with the California Men’s Colony to provide educational programs to selected incarcerated individuals that will greatly enhance their employability upon release.”

By January 2017, Cuesta College expects to have 250 students at the CMC enrolled in a 21-course program that leads to a transferable degree in sociology. Students will be taught in-person by Cuesta College instructors working at the CMC. The program will not impact the availability of regularly scheduled courses on campus.

“We expect to award each student participating in the Second Chance Pell program approximately $3,000,” said Cuesta College Director of Financial Aid Patrick Scott. “We anticipate that approximately $250,000 will be awarded each year to students in the program. In total, Cuesta College awards about $11.3 million in Pell Grants annually; the Second Chance Pell amounts to about two percent of the total.”

Scott adds that “this program just opens up the eligibility requirements for locally incarcerated students; there is absolutely no impact on the availability of the Pell Grant for other students.”

Reaction to the funding and Cuesta College’s strong partnership with the CMC has been positive.

“I am 100-percent for it,” said Cuesta College alum Daniel Cadwell. The 2015-16 Associated Students of Cuesta College Student Body President was once incarcerated himself, and credits schooling while in prison as “what gave me the confidence back in myself to know I can still better myself and look forward to something different and positive. In order to keep moving forward, an incarcerated individual needs acceptance from the community they choose to become a part of. Every community has many gateways; I chose Cuesta College to start my life over, and this Second Chance Pell program will offer a great start to many others whose shoes I was once in.”

Cadwell graduated in May 2016 with both an Associate Degree in Electro-Mechanical Engineering from Cuesta College and a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science from CSU Monterey Bay. Cadwell will enter the Master’s Degree Program in Computer Science at Cal Poly this September. His future career goal is to teach in the computer science area at Cuesta College.

For more information on Cuesta College’s role in the program, call Cuesta College Workforce and Economic Development Community Programs Director Matthew Green at (805) 546-3100, ext. 2229.