CIU’s Mission: To create pathways to and through college for justice-impacted, low-income, and non-traditional students living in Tompkins County.

College Initiative Upstate (CIU) is a learning community of students, educators, and volunteers who are working together to build pathways to and through college for justice-impacted, low-income, and non-traditional students living in Tompkins County, NY. CIU’s model provides the resources for college preparation, college enrollment, and community leadership – all free of charge. By effectively addressing the individual and structural barriers to higher education, including the gap in preparation for college enrollment for individuals at high risk of arrest/re-arrest, CIU offers a life-changing path for non-traditional students experiencing poverty, substance use disorder, and criminal legal involvement.

CIU gave me a lot of hope and self-confidence and it really changed my life.” CIU Student

As a Learning Community

CIU’s commitment is to build a supportive community of staff, students, instructors, and volunteers who work together to eliminate individual and structural barriers to higher education, and create a safe, dependable space for CIU’s students to receive the support they need to succeed in higher education, gain economic stability, and create new, healthy ties that enrich the civic life of their families, neighborhoods and our community at large. CIU's broad network of community partners further expands the opportunities for growth that are available to CIU students, and instills a deep sense of community support around the mission of bringing higher education to formerly incarcerated and court involved residents of Tompkins County.

As a Pathway to Higher Education

CIU welcomes first generation college students as well as students returning to college after taking a break. Many of our prospective students come to CIU believing that they have issues which will prevent them from enrolling in college or receiving financial aid, including: felonies, outstanding student loans, debts to schools previously attended, debts to parole, learning disabilities, homelessness, never having registered for selective service, inability to do math, you name it. However, CIU staff loves finding ways to resolve these issues together with students and we have rarely encountered an issue that proved insurmountable.

As an Alternative to Incarceration (ATI)

As a Tompkins County ATI, prospective students are referred to CIU by both Tompkins County Probation and the Tompkins County and Ithaca City Courts. CIU may be the only ATI in the nation with higher education at its core and the possibility for some students to have the choice of attending college instead of going to jail. Tompkins County Court Judge Scott Miller said this about CIU, "The court handles several thousand criminal cases each year, and hundreds of these cases involve defendants who would greatly benefit from being given the opportunity either to explore higher education for the first time in their lives, or reconnect with a course of study that was interrupted by unfortunate life events. This is an excellent Alternative to Incarceration Program."

CIU Students Celebrate Graduation in 2019
CIU Students Celebrate Graduation in 2019

College Initiative Upstate Impact

During the past four years, CIU has enrolled 150 students in either College Prep ATI or college degree programs. Most of our students have substance abuse issues, legal issues, and live in the most impoverished sectors of our community. They are succeeding academically, transforming their lives and those of their families, and most importantly, they are not returning to jail or prison. CIU’s recidivism rate is 9% (the average in the U.S. is 67% and in New York State is 42%).

CIU data reveals a highly motivated group of students (63% achieve over a 3.0 GPA), moving from poverty, substance abuse, and criminal behavior to a life of “giving back”.  For example, during the Spring 2020 semester, 23/38 or 62% of enrolled college students chose majors in the Human Service sector (Counseling, CASAC/Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Nursing, Criminal Justice, etc.). This is an important way CIU students can build upon their life experience and achieve legitimate, satisfying careers. Our new Peer Leadership Program, Voices That Must Be Heard, is another way that CIU students will serve and invigorate our community though their outreach and service projects. It is important to note that each of our 12 graduates (10 Associate’s and 2 Bachelor’s degrees) is working, continuing their education, or both. Within the next year, we expect our number of graduates to double.