Rising to the Challenge: Formerly Incarcerated Earning Degrees at Chabot College

Less than three years after creating a direct pathway from jail to the classroom, Chabot College has graduated its first cohort of formerly incarcerated students through its RISE program – with two transferring to UC Berkeley and at least seven others moving on to California State University campuses.

“I am really proud of this program and everything it has done and is doing,” said Dr. Stacy Thompson, Chabot College’s vice president of Academic Services. “It was an amazing moment when we had our graduation and I presented associate degrees to these students who have been through so much.”

RISE is an acronym for Restorative Integrated Self-Education, and it embodies Chabot’s commitment to equity. RISE is touted as the only jail-to-college program in California (others, just as impressive, are focused on the state prison population). College readiness workshops are held in jail, and a summer bridge program can include classes such as math jam, career and college readiness, and passion and purpose. Inmates learn what to expect on campus and how to behave in a campus environment.

 

While initially open only to incarcerated low-level offenders, RISE – now with 50 students participating – has expanded to include parolees recently released from prison.

 

The results have been impressive. Just 15 students took part in the initial cohort, and 12 students graduated in May. Some 80% of RISE scholars are maintaining a grade point average of 2.0 or higher, and the dropout rate is lower than the overall college population.

 

RISE emanated after Assembly Bill 109 in 2011 realigned the prison population, resulting in an increasing number of men and women serving lengthy sentences in county jails. Prison education programs abounded, however, there was a dearth of jail-to-college initiatives.

Enter Chabot College which launched RISE in partnership with nonprofit Open Gate, Inc. and Santa Rita Jail.  RISE provides an abundance of wrap-around services to students throughout their educational journey and transition process.

“Chabot has totally embraced this population,” said Dr. Thompson.

“When you have the faculty in your corner, the support of the college vice presidents and president, when you have support of the deans and the instructors and everybody else you run into, it’s pretty impressive,” said RISE scholar Noah Battle, a 39-year-old Army veteran. “But we also have a responsibility to show that the formerly incarcerated can do better and will do better if given the resources and the opportunity.”

Most RISE students are recruited through a process that begins when Open Gate representatives visit Santa Rita Jail and work with staff in identifying potential RISE scholars. Educational options are introduced to inmates through college readiness workshops held within Santa Rita. Upon release, interested students meet at Chabot College campus for RISE orientations and informational sessions. OG MAC (Open Gate Men’s Advisory Council) act as navigators and mentors for new RISE scholars.

“Personally, it helps to have a group of people who have been where I’ve been and we can talk about our experiences and sit in a group and just discuss things about college, life and how we’re going to overcome those hurdles,” said RISE scholar Leron “Abdul Haqq” Edwards.

Kevin Hedemark graduated in May with an associate degree in liberal arts, but is back at Chabot this fall for the classes needed to secure an associate degree for transfer in kinesiology. He plans to open a gym in the East Bay.

“The RISE program is just phenomenal,” Hedemark said. “We have support from everyone, and they all reach out to get us plugged in. Anything that we need, they are there to make sure we succeed.”

Dr. Thompson said her hope is expanding the scope of RISE to provide college courses in jail.

For more information on the RISE program, or to find out how to support it, please contact Dr. Stacy Thompson.