Postsecondary STEM Educational Trajectories of Formerly Incarcerated Persons
Effective Years: 2023-2028
The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program is a National Science Foundation-wide activity that offers awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education, to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization, and to build a foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research. This CAREER project explores the postsecondary trajectories of persons with conviction histories to investigate whether access to college courses while in prison is associated with postsecondary persistence and completion of a certificate or degree. The research is timely, given increased interest by national, state, and local policymakers in providing access to higher education to incarcerated or formerly incarcerated, persons and those who have conviction histories. In 2014, California passed SB 1391, a law allowing for equal per-student funding of college courses in prison and on campus. This CAREER research uses administrative data from California between 2012 and 2021 and regression analysis to measure the likelihood of re-enrollment, persistence, and completion of a community college certificate or degree for formerly incarcerated persons in California who took community college courses while incarcerated. Given the legislation and challenges concerning college access and success for many students from working-class backgrounds and students of color, study findings are expected to inform policy, approaches to expanding postsecondary education, and the body of knowledge on educational access and success for individuals with conviction histories.
A college degree serves as a pathway to economic mobility for persons from working-class families in the United States. Fiscal returns to education are highest for those students earning science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) degrees. This CAREER project also explores the types of degrees earned by persons with conviction histories, the number of degrees that are earned in STEM fields, and the characteristics of formerly incarcerated persons who earn these degrees. Given the importance of the structural context for learning, institutional conditions associated with higher rates of persistence and completion for students with conviction histories are also being examined. This project is funded by the Directorate for STEM Education Core Research (ECR) program, which supports work that advances fundamental research on STEM learning and learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.