Claflin University Hopes to Improve Lives and Communities through Historic Pathways from Prison Program

UNCF-member institution Claflin University has launched its first cohort of students participating in the transformative Pathways From Prison Program. This historic initiative aligns with Claflin’s commitment to offering access to its exceptional academic programs to all students who value higher education’s positive impact on individuals and communities. Incarcerated individuals in South Carolina prisons are eligible to participate provided they meet the requirements.

“The students are very excited. They appreciate the opportunities provided by Claflin’s Pathways From Prison Program,” said Dr. Vanessa Harris, interim director of the program. She is also the interim director for the Center for Professional and Continuing Studies and an assistant professor in Claflin’s School of Education. “One student said his motivation for being in the program was to prepare himself for career and job opportunities after he is released,” Harris said. “His goal is to earn a degree or to at least earn credits toward earning a degree through this program.”

The South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDOC) approved 62 students to participate in the program based on the agency’s qualifications. Claflin offered acceptance to nearly 30 students based on the University’s academic requirements.

Claflin Univ. Pathways from Prison logo“The students are required to complete an application packet like other students applying for admission to Claflin,” Harris said. “We collect their transcripts and make sure they meet our academic requirements which include graduating from high school or earning a General Educational Development (GED) qualification. If they have previous college credits, they must have a grade point average of 2.0 or higher.”

The Pathways From Prison Program is funded by the Second Chance Pell Grant Pilot Program, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). The grant provides need-based Federal Pell Grants to individuals incarcerated in federal and state prisons. The grants allow incarcerated individuals to receive federal funding to enroll in postsecondary programs offered by local colleges and universities or distance learning. Claflin University was the only HBCU in South Carolina among 67 colleges and universities nationwide selected for the program.

Students may earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, psychology, and organizational management. Additionally, they may also earn minors and certificate credentials.

The program is coordinated by Claflin’s Center for Social Justice through the Center for Professional and Continuing Studies. Claflin was awarded a $525,000 grant from Gilead Sciences, Inc. to support initiatives and programs conducted by the University’s new Center for Social Justice. Gilead, Inc. is a research-based biopharmaceutical company.

The current class includes one student who has an associate degree and another with a paralegal degree. Several have earned college credit and high school diplomas.

Harris said students who need assistance with developing college-level academic skills are referred to Healthy Routines, a nonprofit organization that offers non-credit college preparation courses for incarcerated individuals. Claflin received a grant from The Laughing Gull Foundation that pays the fee for transcripts for students who previously attended college. According to Harris, most colleges and universities either waive or lower the transcript fees for students in the program. The Foundation’s grant also helps incarcerated students who have earned a GED with purchasing their transcripts from the SC Department of Education.

“We are very grateful to the SC Department of Corrections, Healthy Routines, our partners, and other supporters of our Pathways From Prison Program,” Harris said.

“This program demonstrates our commitment to social justice and it will enable participants to successfully re-enter society and become productive citizens. It speaks volumes for where Claflin is headed with our social justice degree program.”