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Seven Pilot Programs Will Transform Currently and Formerly Incarcerated Californians into College Graduates

An unprecedented collaboration among nine state and national foundations today announced seven grants awarded to support college education for currently and formerly incarcerated Californians enrolled in California Community Colleges and the California State University. The awardees will receive a combined total of $5.9 million over three years to provide high-quality, in-person courses to students inside prisons and jails and to help formerly incarcerated students on college campuses transform their lives. The Renewing Communities project is a joint initiative of The Opportunity Institute and the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.

“Getting a college education turned my life around,” said Jared Walker, a participant in Project Rebound who served three years in state prison. A finance major, Mr. Walker is about to graduate from San Francisco State University with a 3.74 GPA and plans to work in city government. “People think I’m an exception, but I’m not. There are lots of guys just like me who are thirsty for education and would jump at the chance to do something to change their lives.”

The nine foundations are The California Endowment, The California Wellness Foundation, Roy & Patricia Disney Family Foundation, ECMC Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Rosenberg Foundation.

“By transforming these Californians into college students and graduates, this initiative will improve public health and safety, build economic and social mobility, and make our communities safer,” said Rebecca Silbert, Senior Vice President at The Opportunity Institute.

Renewing Communities announced grant awards to the following pilot programs today:


  • Bakersfield College. Bakersfield College lies in Kern County, an agricultural area of the state with many prisons, a high concentration of jail inmates, and on-campus students who struggle with poverty and associated challenges. This innovative new partnership pairs Bakersfield College with two nearby prisons, the county jail, and community reentry organizations to provide in-person transferrable credit college classes to students inside prison and jail, to build a bridge from the prisons and jails to Bakersfield College, and to support justice-involved students on campus so that they can persist to an Associate’s degree.
  • Cal State University Los Angeles. CSU LA will be piloting the only in-person Bachelor’s degree program in a California prison. Hundreds of students in California prisons earn AAs but this will be the first time any of them have had the opportunity to earn an in-person BA from a public university.
  • Chaffey College. Chaffey College will be replicating its highly successful in-person AA degree program, now at the California Institution for Women (CIW), at the California Institution for Men (CIM) in nearby Chino. The Chaffey program, which has worked within the community college system for an unprecedented 10 years, can be a model for other community colleges located near the state’s 35 prisons. Chaffey will be covering a large portion of the staffing for the CIM program through state apportionment.
  • Five Keys Charter School. Five Keys operates charter high schools inside jails and in justice-impacted neighborhoods in San Francisco and Los Angeles counties, and is expanding to additional counties in the state. More than 97% of Five Keys’ funding comes from public sources. Students who already have a high school diploma or GED, however, have been unable to receive additional educational services from Five Keys. This grant will allow Five Keys to pilot a partnership with City College of San Francisco to build links from high school to college and to offer in-custody college courses and pathways that can be continued on the college campus when students are released. The goal is to develop a model that can be replicated in other counties in which Five Keys operates.
  • San Francisco State University. SF State will be replicating its highly successful Project Rebound program, which has helped formerly incarcerated students enroll in SF State and persist through to a college degree for 40 years. The program will be replicated at Sacramento State, CSU Fresno, CSU Bakersfield, Cal State Fullerton, San Diego State, CSU San Bernardino, and Cal Poly Pomona. The replication is being co-funded with $200,000 from the Office of the California State University Chancellor and expects to expand to all 23 campuses of the CSU system within three years.
  • Shasta College. Shasta College is located in a rural Northern California county, two to three hours from any public four-year university. The Shasta County jail generally operates at or above capacity. For this grant, the College and the Sheriff have partnered to expand an innovative pilot program that releases students convicted of non-violent offenses from the jail and enrolls them in Shasta College programs for career certificates and degrees. The College works in partnership with the Sheriff and community organizations to support the students with their reentry needs and educational successes.
  • Street Scholars. Street Scholars, a non-profit organization based at Merritt College in Alameda County, has been a successful peer-mentoring program for students under parole supervision seeking to complete their AA degree and transfer to a four-year university. Alameda County has one of the highest concentrations of formerly incarcerated people in the state, and there are four other community colleges in the district. Street Scholars will expand to the other four colleges with the goal of having all five programs self-supporting and supported by the district at the end of three years.


The Renewing Communities initiative required grantees to secure at least 25 percent of their funding from public sources to build long-term viability for the programs.

“This is an unprecedented coming together of private foundations, our public higher education institutions, and our criminal justice agencies to make communities across California stronger and safer by investing in student success. We believe the public-private partnership is a model other states can adopt,” said Debbie Mukamal, executive director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center at Stanford Law School.

In order to build statewide success for the pilot programs and others, The Opportunity Institute will be combining the pilot funding with a larger collaborative effort to remove barriers and assist all California’s public higher education institutions in making high-quality college education available to currently and formerly incarcerated students.

An estimated 50,000 people will be released from California’s prisons in the next two years, and thousands more will be released from county jails. Without intervention, the statistics suggest that many of them will return to custody. A RAND study showed that participants in prison college programs have a 51 percent lower rate of returning to crime than those who do not participate and the odds of obtaining employment are higher for those who participate in education.

The Renewing Communities initiative was designed and launched after 18 months of research documented in Degrees of Freedom: Expanding College Opportunities for Currently and Formerly Incarcerated Californians (2015).


The Opportunity Institute is a non-profit organization that promotes social mobility and equity by improving outcomes from early childhood through early career. We focus on education, which plays a critical role in opening opportunities, and the related social policies that make true educational opportunity possible. For more information, please visit

The Stanford Criminal Justice Center is based at Stanford Law School and serves as a research and policy institute on issues related to the criminal justice system. Its efforts are geared toward both generating policy research for the public sector, as well as providing pedagogical opportunities to Stanford Law School students with academic or career interests in criminal law and crime policy. For more information, please visit

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