Prisoners to Receive Guaranteed Transfer Admission to Cal State through Innovative College Program.

Graduates from one of the most unique community colleges in the nation will soon be guaranteed admission if they decide to transfer to the California State University (CSU) system.

However, in order to qualify for the transfer program, they must first be released from prison.

The CSU system, the largest public university system in the country, is collaborating with Mount Tamalpais College, located within San Quentin State Prison, to develop this new college transfer program. Mount Tamalpais College is a private two-year accredited institution and the first of its kind established within a state prison.

“This transfer program reflects our institution’s and system’s core values,” stated Laura Massa, CSU’s interim associate vice chancellor for academy and faculty programs. “People in California, and well, everywhere, should have access to a high-quality education. Extensive data proves that educational opportunities are crucial for individuals who have been incarcerated.”

Massa also emphasized that education plays a significant role in the success and reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals, enabling them to become valuable contributors to their communities.

College-in-prison programs have generally been well-received, particularly from a political standpoint, as research indicates that bachelor’s and associate degree programs in prison help reduce recidivism rates and assist formerly incarcerated individuals in securing employment upon release.

While the specific details are still being worked out by CSU and Mount Tamalpais, students who complete their associate degree at Mount Tamalpais will receive priority admission to a bachelor’s degree program at any of the 23 CSU campuses they apply to, once they are released. Currently, Mount Tamalpais College offers an Associate of Arts degree in liberal arts. The guaranteed transfer degree with CSU may resemble the Associate Degree for Transfer accepted by the CSU system from the state’s community college system. Presently, there are 26 Mount Tamalpais graduates incarcerated in San Quentin.

This program aligns with a broader trend unfolding across California’s state prison system. Nearly all of the state’s 34 prisons already offer associate degree programs through the California Community College system, and more recently, the University of California (UC) and CSU systems have begun offering bachelor’s degree programs in some prisons.

Corey McNeil, a Mount Tamalpais graduate who was formerly incarcerated in San Quentin, viewed the guaranteed admission agreement as yet another testament to the quality of work completed by students despite being in prison. McNeil, who was released from San Quentin in 2021 and is currently a San Francisco State University student, said, “It represents another level of acceptance. Many students feel that the education provided inside the prison is considered subpar or not on par with traditional colleges. So, this agreement is significant. It demonstrates that the education received in prison is acknowledged and accepted by CSU.”

Massa stressed that this agreement was only made possible due to Mount Tamalpais College achieving accreditation. Established almost 30 years ago, Mount Tamalpais College is exclusively dedicated to incarcerated individuals within California’s oldest prison, and in 2022, it became the first fully accredited prison-based college in the United States. To date, the college has graduated around 25 students, according to Amy Jamogochian, the chief academic officer at the college.

San Quentin, which currently houses approximately 3,000 individuals, features 536 students. The current enrollment stands at around 300 due to some students taking a semester off.

Jamogochian stated, “It is truly heartening that CSU is enthusiastic about this collaboration. We aspire to serve formerly incarcerated individuals and ensure their well-being.”

Furthermore, Jamogochian acknowledged that the school-to-prison pipeline and the “learning-disability-to-prison pipeline” persist in California, and resolving these issues cannot be accomplished solely at the college level. Nonetheless, Mount Tamalpais and other prison-based colleges strive to address this reality by providing robust academics and comprehensive student support services.

Massa mentioned that both Mount Tamalpais College and the CSU system would continue refining the details of the guaranteed admission program, with the aim of admitting graduates as early as fall 2024.

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