College Unbound's work inside and outside of prisons is designed to increase post-secondary graduation rates for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated adult learners looking to complete their bachelor’s degrees. The framework is rooted in our innovative project-based curriculum combining students' passions with career interests. CU is an alternative post secondary educational model that is individualized, interest-based, project-driven, cohort-supported, flexible, and affordable. CU integrates the students’ own purposes for learning with the needs of their communities, improving the lives of the students and the lives of those they touch.
Currently incarcerated students taking part in CU combine college-level, credit-bearing coursework with what students are passionate about through personalized individual projects. Developing and implementing authentic action research projects keeps students motivated through completion, and increases their chances of finding adequate paying employment upon release.
Simultaneous with project development, the curriculum helps students to shape their public narrative. Using the process of Harvard University’s Marshall Ganz to help students craft a Story of Self, Story of Us, and Story of Now ensures that the curriculum centered around their action research projects is also centered around their identity and passions. Their public narratives move them from self to community:
College Unbound works with cohorts both in and outside of the prison. Inside the prison, students work through a 15-credit curriculum of coursework. Upon completion of all 15 credits inside, a ceremony is held and students are awarded a certificate of completion. Incarcerated alumni remain connected to the program by becoming alumni mentors, recruiters and/or teaching assistants. If students are released while in the program, they can transfer their credits to College Unbound and continue on the pathway towards degree completion. Recently released students are transitioned into an outside cohort within College Unbound. Each student within this cohort were formerly incarcerated and are working towards their bachelor’s degrees. Students in the outside cohort receive continuing intensive support to help ease their transition back into society and ensure their personal and professional success.
Students are provided one-on-one support throughout the program to enable them to embrace self-directed learning. They are connected to peer learning communities and mentors that provide continuous support as well as encouragement and resources specific to their circumstances. With support from advisors who have a deep understanding of experiential learning, students set explicit long-term goals for their education, as well as shorter-term objectives with real-life implications that enable them to develop projects that have immediate relevance and to benchmark success along the way.
Six months prior to release, students begin a series of bi-weekly meetings with College Unbound's Case Manager, Wanda Brown, to begin to identify the necessary resources needed in order to have a smooth transition back into society. Our Case Manager supports students with issues related to housing, employment, substance abuse, community and family reunification. Students also work with our financial aid specialist who assists with the financial aid applications and student loans, and an Admissions/Registration specialist to help them get enrolled.