CSUF Joins Statewide Effort to Expand College Access for Those Formerly Incarcerated

Brady Heiner, assistant professor of philosophy at Cal State Fullerton, is overseeing CSUF's launch of Project Rebound.

Brady Heiner, assistant professor of philosophy at Cal State Fullerton, is overseeing CSUF's launch of Project Rebound.

Cal State Fullerton will join a statewide effort led by San Francisco State University to expand college access for formerly incarcerated individuals.

CSUF is among seven California State University campuses – including Bakersfield, Fresno, Pomona, Sacramento, San Bernardino and San Diego – that will establish programs modeled after SF State’s Project Rebound. Established in 1967 by the late John Irwin, a formerly incarcerated individual who became a SF State sociology professor and an internationally recognized advocate for prisoners’ rights, the program helps those who have spent time in jail or prison earn college degrees, reducing the likelihood they will return to incarceration.

The expansion is funded through a $500,000 “Renewing Communities” grant from The Opportunity Institute.

“As an institution that embraces academic excellence and respects and supports diverse scholars and students from all backgrounds, California State University, Fullerton looks forward to welcoming students who are seeking a second chance through higher education,” said CSUF President Mildred García. “I am proud to partner with San Francisco State and our other CSU sister campuses in supporting this historically underserved population, and confident Project Rebound adds to our legacy of purveying equitable access to higher education for all those who seek it.”

Supported by several university departments, Project Rebound offers special admissions for men and women who may not normally qualify for acceptance. Cal State Fullerton’s three-year pilot program will include a staff of formerly incarcerated individuals who have achieved academic success. It will offer financial support for Project Rebound students in the form of textbook stipends, transportation and meal vouchers; and offer financial aid, academic advising, and assistance with housing, employment and legal aid.

CSUF plans to enroll its first Project Rebound students in spring 2017. However, prospective students can contact the program office in Room 230 of the Humanities-Social Sciences Building as early as July and begin the application process in August, said Brady Heiner, assistant professor of philosophy, who is overseeing the program’s launch on campus.

The search for CSUF’s program coordinator begins this summer, with the hope of finding formerly incarcerated candidates. The coordinator will start in the fall, Heiner said.

“Many currently and formerly incarcerated Californians have the interest, aptitude and ambition for university education, but have in recent history had no access or support to actualize that ambition,” he said. “CSU Project Rebound aims to create that access and support to make higher education a reality for these individuals. And by supporting such students, Rebound will play a part in building stronger, safer communities.”

The data bears out the dramatic impact a college education can have on the formerly incarcerated. California has historically suffered from one of the highest recidivism rates in the nation, with up to two-thirds of those released from prison returning within a few years. But for those who participate in college programs, the odds of doing so are reduced by 51 percent, according to a RAND study on correction education. In 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, the number of Project Rebound students who returned to prison was just 3 percent.

At SF State, more than 90 percent of Project Rebound students eventually graduate, and at a faster rate than the overall student population, according to Jason Bell, the program’s director. Bell spent nine years in prison before earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at SF State through the program.

“When a person leaves prison, they’re often told, ‘Just go out there and do the right thing,’ ” Bell said. “But how do you accomplish that if you don’t have places to help you do what’s considered the ‘right thing?’ Education is definitely one of those places, and Project Rebound has been a pioneer in making sure those leaving the criminal justice system have access.”

According to Project Rebound Data Specialist and program alum Airto Morales, expanding that access is critical because many of those just released from prison cannot travel outside a specified area, so cannot come to San Francisco to study, without violating their parole. Morales himself spent 10 years in prison before earning both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at SF State with the help of Project Rebound.

“When you come to a university, which is a huge place, after living on a prison yard for so many years, to be able to walk into an office and know that there is someone who understands what you’re going through helps a lot,” Morales said.

Bell will spend the next year getting Project Rebound programs at each of the other CSU campuses off the ground, establishing program leaders at each site and setting up a pipeline of students to be enrolled the following year.

“I'm really excited, and I just want to get to work,” Bell said. “I want to prove to people how important this is, to the state and to the nation.”

The Renewing Communities initiative is also funding six other pilot programs. The initiative is supported by nine state and national foundations, including the California Endowment, the California Wellness Foundation, Roy & Patricia Disney Family Foundation, ECMC Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Rosenberg Foundation.