Photo: The Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, where 25 qualified inmates will receive a new Second Chance Federal Pell Grant. (Photo courtesy of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation).
CHULA VISTA, California – Southwestern College has been chosen by the U.S. Department of Education for its Second Chance Pell pilot program, a nationwide program that provides incarcerated Americans the opportunity to receive the Federal Pell Grant to defray the financial costs of higher education.
Of the 67 colleges and universities chosen, Southwestern College is only one of three community colleges in California. Patrice Milkovich, director of the Crown Cove Aquatic Center and liaison between the college and Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, said that investing in incarcerated students provides greater opportunities to become productive members of society upon release and greatly reduces recidivism rates.
“Education is critical to supporting a productive society and improving communities,” Milkovich said. “Some of the reasons people are incarcerated is because they lack the skills to obtain a living wage job, which can result in criminal activity. How do we break that cycle when they’re released? We do that through education, and Southwestern College is committed to provide all community members who reside within our boundaries access to education.”
The Second Chance Pell builds upon Southwestern College’s commitment to offer opportunities to its students at Donovan, where the college began offering courses in the 2016 spring semester to about 50 students. The classes Southwestern College offers are unique because they are in support of an Associate Degree for Transfer in Business Administration, and that instruction occurs inside the prison face-to-face with the faculty member.
“Our experience last semester was welcomed with open arms, students had such enthusiasm by having a faculty member standing in front of them and being able to learn from them,” Milkovich said. “In the spring, the college, under the direction of Superintendent/President Dr. Melinda Nish and Vice President for Academic Affairs Kathy Tyner, committed to making these courses accessible to the inmates and supporting the courses.”
Superintendent/President Dr. Melinda Nish said that providing these students a path to success gives them the opportunity for true second chances when they are released from Donovan.
“One proven strategy to reduce recidivism is education,” Nish said. “This is why we feel compelled as a higher education provider in our community to be in the prison. To be one of three community colleges in the state to be part of the pilot program is resounding recognition of the good work we’re doing.”
This past spring semester, Southwestern College offered Personal Finance and Money Management and a geography class. Beginning this fall, Southwestern College will offer personal development, communications, reading and psychology courses.
“Programs such as this reflect Southwestern College’s commitment to provide access for all students,” said Governing Board President Nora E. Vargas. “By investing in the students at Donovan, we send a message that we truly believe in second chances.”
Up until now, the district, through its student equity funding, was able to pay for the costs of the students’ textbooks. With the Second Chance Pell, 25 students will receive $500 to cover the costs of textbooks for four classes. The $46/unit fees will continue to be covered by the California Community Colleges Board of Governors Fee Waiver.
Investing in all students is one of Southwestern College’s core values, said Patti Larkin, director of the Evaluations, Financial Aid and Veterans Services Department, and that value extends to our entire service area, Donovan included.
"We are a community college and we're here to serve our community," Larkin said. "The folks at Donovan are a part of our community, and more importantly, when they are released from Donovan, they are still a part of our community. If we have the ability to do it, and the support of the Department of Education and the federal government, we have a responsibility to serve everybody as fully and completely as we possibly can."
A study by the RAND Corporation, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, found that incarcerated individuals who received education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison. The study also found that for every $1 invested in correctional education, $4-$5 was saved on re-incarceration costs.
“The evidence is clear. Promoting the education and job training for incarcerated individuals makes communities safer by reducing recidivism and saves taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. “I applaud the institutions that have partnered to develop high-quality programs that will equip these students with invaluable learning. The knowledge and skills they acquire will promote successful reintegration and enable them become active and engaged citizens.”