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Erin Castro

Associate Professor | Higher Education


Dr. Castro has been working at the intersections of higher education and incarceration for over a decade. A national expert on prison higher education. A proud first-generation community college transfer student, she earned her PhD in Education Policy Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she volunteered with the Education Justice Project. She is currently Associate Dean for Access and Community Engagement in the Office of Undergraduate Studies and an Associate Professor of Higher Education at the University of Utah.

In 2016, alongside ten undergraduate students, Dr. Castro founded the University of Utah Prison Education Project, an on-site initiative providing college coursework and programming at the Utah State Prison in Draper. She directed the project until 2022 and now oversees the initiative alongside a robust community engagement portfolio. She has served on a handful of advisory boards, including the Utah Youth in Custody Advisory Committee,

A widely published scholar, Dr. Castro co-founded the Journal of Higher Education in Prison in 2020 as an executive editor. In 2016 she helped develop and launch the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison, a national non-profit dedicated to advancing the field of higher education. Her work has been published in journals such as Harvard Educational Review and Journal of College Student Development. She routinely teaches and learns inside prisons.

Areas of Expertise

Leadership / Policy


  • Castro, E. L., Montero, E., & Fierros, C. O. (Forthcoming). Xenophobia in prison higher education: Towards recruiting and supporting undocumented incarcerated people. The Journal Committed to Social Change on Race and Ethnicity.
  • Castro, E.L., Royer, C.E., Gould, M.R., & Lerman, A.E. (2022). Beyond Pell restoration: Addressing persistent funding challenges in higher education in prison toward racial and economic justice. Alliance for Higher Education in Prison.
  • Castro, E. L. & Royer, C. E. (2021). College admissions in the carceral state. Found in Taylor, R. & Kuntz, A. F. (Eds). (2021). Equity, freedom, and inclusion in higher education: Cases and commentaries in educational ethics. Harvard Education Press.
  • Castro, E. L. & Magana, S. (2020). Enhancing the carceral state: Criminal/ized history questions in college admissions. Journal of College Student Development, 61(6), 814-31.
  • Castro, E. L. (2020). “They sellin’ us a dream they not preparin’ us for”: College readiness, dysconscious racism, and policy failure in one rural Black high school. Urban Review. 53(4), 617-640.


Dr. Castro’s research seeks to improve policy and practice toward greater equity and access to higher education for currently and formerly incarcerated people. She has consulted with the U.S. Department of Education, served as an advisor for Pell grant reinstatement for incarcerated people, and consults directly with a handful of states in their efforts to draft policy that improves college-going pathways and data infrastructure for incarcerated people. Her most recent research examines the impact and implementation of the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative funded by Lumina Foundation. Ongoing research supported by Ascendium Philanthropy, ECMC, and the Laughing Gull Foundation surveys the landscape of prison higher education in the U.S. and populates the National Directory of Higher Education in Prison Programs.

Honors & Awards

  • College of Education Social Justice and Transformation Award (University of Utah, 2021)
  • Beacons of Excellence Award (University of Utah, 2019)
  • Pete Suazo Community Service Award (Utah Minority Bar Association, 2018)
  • Early Career Teaching Award (University of Utah, 2017)
  • College of Education Teaching Award (University of Utah, 2016)