Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work


School of Social Work

First Reader/Committee Chair

Thomas Davis


The expansion of college-in-prison (CIP) programs, especially in California, where incarcerated college enrollment increased from 11,472 students to over 15,000 in two years, has spotlighted higher education for incarcerated individuals. This increase, supported by legislation that expands funding for CIP programs and allows time off sentences for successful course/degree completion, is further bolstered by the restoration of Federal Pell funding for incarcerated students after a 28-year ban. Despite the acknowledged benefits of CIP programs in reducing recidivism and enhancing post-release outcomes, existing research highlights the need for additional exploration into the quality of CIP programs. Senate Bill 416 further emphasizes this inquiry as it mandates parity in academic support and services for incarcerated students as provided on traditional college campuses. In order to address this gap, this study uses Chickering and Gamson's Seven Principles of Quality Undergraduate Education to investigate whether educational parity exists when comparing CIP programs to the higher education provided post-release. Employing a mixed-methods approach from 80 quantitative surveys and 19 qualitative interviews from formerly incarcerated college students reveals significant disparities in educational experiences. These disparities are particularly evident when examining course modality delivery, with the most pronounced disparity occurring with correspondence-based courses. One limitation of this study is the absence of survey questions on prompt feedback, which researchers qualitatively explored. This study highlights the need for policy and educational reforms to elevate CIP program standards to ensure incarcerated scholars receive an education on par with students in broader society.