Mount Tamalpais College, a program for inmates at San Quentin State Prison, has been granted accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
The designation came from the association’s Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, a 19-member board that reviews whether schools meet educational standards.
“Because our processes are based on thorough and recognized best practices, our determination that an institution is in fact providing a quality educational experience for its students is respected by multiple stakeholders,” the commission website says.
Mount Tamalpais College — formerly known as the Prison University Project and Patten University — has provided free education to San Quentin inmates for 25 years. Its offerings include an associate’s degree program and a college preparatory program.
Jody Lewen, president of the college, said accreditation means the school is “independent and autonomous” and that students are not defined as prisoners.
“It advances the goal of helping the general public understand that people in prison are fully human,” she said.
“We are also committed to providing support to other practitioners in the field of higher education in prison, and to sharing knowledge to advance the cause of equity and excellence in higher education nationally,” Lewen said. “Some schools are interested in becoming involved in operating programs inside correctional facilities because they want to serve incarcerated people, because they want to make sure they have access to education.”
Lewen said the college helps students prepare to transfer to other colleges.
““We have many students who are now on California State and UC campuses pursuing bachelor’s degrees and even master’s degrees as well,” Lewen said. “We are really interested in creating that pipeline to further degrees.”
Amy Jamgochian, the chief academic officer, said, ”Becoming accredited as a junior college located solely inside a prison feels like an important turning point in a society that seldom sees education as a human right or incarcerated people as humans.”
Jamgochian said the staff is developing a computer lab and strengthening science, technology, engineering and math offerings.
Ronald Bloomfield, the prison warden, said the college’s accreditation “represents years of dedicated service in helping an underserved segment of our society.”
”The students of Mt. Tam experience an amazing high-quality education,” Bloomfield said. “Graduates leave the college with knowledge and skills essential to becoming productive citizens.”
Corey McNeil, a graduate now on staff at the college, said its accreditation makes him feel like the school is “growing and evolving along with me.”
”This is our own college now, all of the people who built this together,” McNeil said. “Now we can say that this is ours.”
Attribution: This article originally appeared in Marin Independent Journal on March 30, 2022.