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Mount Tamalpais College: Expanding Higher Education Access To The Incarcerated Population

Over the past few years, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), policymakers, and the public have sought new strategies to reduce the prison population, improve prison culture, and assist in reentry. One strategy California state prisons are exploring is expanding higher education opportunities for incarcerated individuals. 

For the past 25 years, Mount Tamalpais College (MTC)—formerly known as the Prison University Project and Patten University at San Quentin— is unique among degree-granting prison college programs in the country. Through this program, incarcerated individuals at San Quentin State Prison in Northern California are able to earn a general education Associate of Arts degree that includes courses in humanities, social sciences, math, and science. MTC serves as a model for what transformative justice and rehabilitation in California can be. 

On January 27, 2022, MTC announced they had successfully achieved Initial Accreditation by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) and become the nation’s first accredited junior college specifically designed for incarcerated individuals. Accreditation ensures that MTC is recognized as an independent liberal arts college with courses fully transferable to four-year universities, and that the college is held to the same quality standards as any other community college. This landmark accreditation acknowledges the commitment to unique rehabilitative services for underserved populations. MTC’s accreditation represents the collective accomplishments of thousands of current and former MTC students and recognition of the long-term value that prison higher-education programs can offer to individuals, families, and communities.  

Beyond evidence demonstrating the relationship between prison education programs and lower levels of recidivism, new research shows that participation in MTC’s higher education program increases self-efficacy and civic orientation. Amidst the challenges of life in a correctional institution, time spent in the classroom can provide students with transformative benefits that help participants change the way they think about themselves, others, and their future. 

Photo credit:  R.J Lozada