On Friday, June 28, Corban University celebrated its first graduating class of 18 adults in custody (AICs) at the Oregon State Correctional Institution (OSCI). 
 
The program, a collaboration between Corban University, Paid in Full Oregon, and the Oregon Department of Corrections, first began in 2019 to provide prison inmates the opportunity to obtain an accredited four-year degree while also empowering them through leadership training and skill-building to become leaders and positive culture-shapers within the prison system. 
 
Throughout the four-year curriculum, students are taught in a live, face-to-face classroom setting at OSCI by Corban University professors. The program culminates in a Bachelor of Science degree in liberal arts, fully accredited through Corban, and emphasizing psychology, social services, and leadership. 
 
“This program is a huge win for the community,” said Corban University Associate Provost and Dean of Faculty Academics, Dr. Felicia Squires, who oversees the program, having been involved since its inception. “The recidivism rate for AICs with a college degree is just 5.6%.” 
 
That number sits at 0% for former inmates possessing a master’s degree or higher. The connection between increased educational opportunity and its positive impact on recidivism rates among AICs was what first led to the collaboration between Corban University, Paid in Full, and the DOC, having observed similar models work effectively across the United States. “For those of our students who will eventually reintegrate into our community, they will go out equipped with a four-year liberal arts degree, prepared to work in rehabilitation and para-church organizations among many other possible careers,” Squires continued. “They are ready to be productive, contributing members of our society.” 
 
Corban University President, Dr. John Mark Yeats opened the commencement ceremony with an address to the inaugural graduating class. “Today is a special day,” he said. “Not just because it marks the celebration of years of hard work, and not even because this group in front of me represents the historic first class of OSCI graduates. Today is a special day because it represents personal triumph, transformation, and new beginnings.” 
 
The ceremony was highlighted by a keynote address given by Founder and Executive Director of Paid in Full Oregon, and Senior Judge for the State of Oregon, Tom Kohl, with special live musical performances of “Just Slow Down,” and “The Blessing” given by a group of program students and graduates. As names were read and distinctions given, each graduate was afforded the opportunity to have their own prepared statement read, documenting how their time in the program had impacted their lives. 
 
During his keynote address, Judge Kohl reminded the audience that this is the first graduating cohort in the entire state of Oregon to receive fully accredited, four-year degrees while completing all coursework entirely within prison walls. “This degree is equal to any degree received by a Corban student outside these walls,” he said. “That is amazing, and you should feel so proud of your hard work.” 
 
Recipient of the Distinguished Graduate Award for this inaugural graduating class, Gustavo (full name omitted for privacy reasons), also addressed his fellow graduates, highlighting common problems in the prison system and imploring the graduates to continue to grow and serve their fellows AICs. “We were a part of the problem in our society, not the solution,” he said. “But no one is born a criminal. What if we started to solve the problem from here? What if AICs were allowed to be a part of the solution? Do you know what that looks like? It looks like this graduating class. 
 
The ceremony marked five years of hard work from the AIC students, Corban faculty, and staff at the DOC, OSCI, and Paid in Full Oregon. “It’s almost overwhelming to see five years of their hard work, of our professors’ hard work, of a community’s hard work come to fruition,” Squires said. “Many of our students told me that they have never stuck with anything for five years. This was the first time they started something and saw it through to the end. That alone is a confidence booster for them.” 
 
The program, however, does not conclude fully after graduation. With many of the graduates still fulfilling the remaining years of their sentences, they will continue to be involved in leadership training and other similar initiatives through the work of Paid in Full Oregon and OSCI with the aim of bringing positive leadership to their fellow AICs and helping to reshape the current prison culture from the inside out. 
 
For Corban University faculty and leadership, this piece of the partnership was a major reason for their enthusiastic involvement, resonating with the University’s stated mission of “educating Christians who will make a difference in the world for Jesus Christ.” Providing a four-year accredited education to AICs in the Willamette Valley is just another way the University aims to bring positive impact to the Salem community it calls home. 
 
“This program is core to our mission,” Squires said. “Our students have an opportunity to be in a part of the world that very few others can be in. Even though I’m a DOC volunteer, and I serve inside the facility, I still have very limited contact with a small number of AIC’s. But our students go back into their housing units, into their community within the walls, and are serving the underserved world within OSCI.” 
 
The program will continue with the education of other AIC cohorts already underway. For more information about the program, visit https://www.paidinfulloregon.org/