College Pathways from Rikers Island

Competition Finalist

This entry has been selected as a finalist in the
My Voice, Our City: What will you do? competition.

College Pathways provides young men at Rikers -many of whom never considered college an option- the chance to imagine themselves as college students, prep for enrollment, and access community-based support to transition successfully to college. When Rikers leads to college, the whole city benefits.

About You

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About You

First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization

Organization Name

College Initiative

Borough(s) where you are creating or plan on creating impact

Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island.

Organization Country

United States, NY, New York

Country where your solution is creating social impact

United States, NY, New York

Is your organization a

Non‐profit/NGO/citizen sector organization

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Name Your Entry

College Pathways from Rikers Island

Select the stage that best applies to your solution

Established (past the previous stages and has demonstrated success)

How long have you been in operation?

Operating for less than a year

The Need for your solution: What problem or challenge are you trying to solve?

In NYC, young black and latino men are 10 and 4 times more likely than their white peers to have a felony, and 14 and 5 times more likely to return to jail within a year of their release. A criminal record, limited job experience, and lack of credentials make it difficult to secure gainful employment upon leaving Rikers, resulting in cyclical involvement with the criminal justice system. This destabilizes young peoples’ lives and costs taxpayers money. A college education can overcome these challenges, but young men at Rikers don’t have enough clear pathways from incarceration to college.

The Solution: What is your solution? Be specific!

College Pathways helps young men transition from incarceration to college. CI reports that less than 4% of their students recidivate after receiving a college degree, and that their students graduate faster than average CUNY students. College puts people on a career path, develops leadership and civic engagement, and reduces recidivism.

Lack of information and self-confidence are often barriers to college success for young men of color in the criminal justice system. They are deterred incomplete and inaccurate information about financial aid, admissions, and the benefits of a degree. With 16 sessions of college prep and a linkage to community-based support, CP encourages young men at Rikers to see themselves as college material.

The Model: Walk us through a specific example of how your solution makes a difference; include the primary activities that are involved in your solution. Consider telling us a story about the solution in action and how it creates impact. For idea-stage pitches, consider providing a hypothetical example

Open to 16-24 year olds at Rikers, College Pathways (CP) is a 16-session college prep workshop with 4 phases: College Readiness provides students with accurate information about what is required to succeed in college; Academic Prep helps students acclimate to the structured learning environment while preparing them for college placement exams; Community Impact encourages students to reflect on their new college knowledge and make policy proposals to increase college awareness in their communities (at Rikers or at home); and Transitions provides education-based discharge planning with direct referrals to programs that will support their continued college engagement upon their release.

Workshop sessions are staffed by trained volunteers and supported by NYC Department of Correction Educational Services (DOC) and CI. The curriculum is co-developed, evaluated, and consistently strengthened by CI, DOC, CP volunteer staff, and past CP students. One CP student, Joe, 22, is at Rikers for 9 months. Though he first signed up for CP to be out of his dorm, at the end of the 12 sessions he wrote that it helped him “realize that it would be beneficial to return to school and obtain a degree."

The Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem that you are addressing with your solution. And how does your proposed solution differ from or build on these approaches?

A number of community-based organizations, such as CI, GOSO, Future Now, and CUNY Catch provide college transition support specifically for young men with criminal justice system involvement. Yet most of these programs are under-resourced and under-staffed. They conduct outreach at Rikers, but not sustained progressive workshops or instruction. College Pathways builds on this outreach by engaging young men with high school credentials through college prep workshops that increase their chances of following through with pursuing a college education upon release.

Social Impact

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Founding Story: Share a story about the “Aha!” moment that led you or the person who came up with your proposed solution to get started and/or to see the potential for it to succeed.

CP was born when the 2013 NYC Education Pioneers (EP) Fellows connected with the NY Reentry Education Network (NYREN) seeking to create an education-based project on Rikers, and partnered with CI to offer college prep. CI has done regular outreach at Rikers since 2011 when a grant from the former Mayor’s Office of Adult Education supported providers to strengthen education transitions from Rikers—yet almost none of the students CI met at Rikers visited their office post-release. The CP approach responded to the theory that a single interaction with people on Rikers did not generate enough interest for follow-through. The EP volunteers collaborated with CI and DOC to develop the curriculum and run two cohorts of students since March 2013.

Impact: What is the impact of your solution to date? Also describe the projected future impact. (If your solution is an idea you can just describe projected future impact.)

With no direct funding, but in-kind support, CP has engaged 24 students in 20+ hours of college prep in 4 months. Over 2 years of outreach, less than 5% of students CI met at Rikers connected post-release. Already almost 20% of CP students have connected with CI after their release from Rikers, and one CP student is about to enroll in college.

CP hopes to serve 100 students a year, and for half of those who complete the workshop to connect with CI or a NYREN organization within 3 months of release, and for half of those to enroll in college prep or college within 6 months. The impacts of college education include increased lifetime earnings, civic engagement, employment prospects, and public safety, and decreased recidivism and crime.

Full Impact Potential: How do you plan on spreading your solution moving forward? (Please consider spread within New York City or beyond, policy reform, how you might get others to replicate/adopt your solution or other mechanisms)

On average more than 10,000 people are incarcerated daily at Rikers, making the proposed program very small. Ideally the impact of CP on young men’s college enrollment and recidivism rates will justify CP’s future expansion in NYC jails. CP also plans to produce student-designed college promotion materials, and to partner with CUNY to install College Application Stations in Rikers jails. CP will work with the NYREN and the Education from the Inside Out Coalition on policy reform advocacy to increase access to higher education for people with criminal justice system involvement, as a cost-effective strategy for reducing incarceration and improving public safety. In the long run, CP hopes to help make Rikers Island an entry point for CUNY.


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Current annual budget, in US dollars (if your solution is an idea please estimate what your budget will need to be in order to carry out your solution)


Tell us about your partnerships. If your solution is an idea tell us about who you would partner or plan on partnering with in order to make your solution a success.

CP is a part of NYREN, a network of community-based providers and partners in city government and higher education working together to make education central in reentry policy and practice in New York State. As a part of NYREN, CP is integrated into a referral network of 17+ organizations directly providing reentry education services to young people in NYC. CP will also develop a partnership with CUNY, through the Black Male Initiative.

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78 weeks ago College Pathways from Rikers Island has been chosen as a finalist in My Voice, Our City: What will you do?.
85 weeks ago Aviva Tevah submitted this idea.