College Initiative

More than one thousand justice impacted students have pursued higher education through College Initiative (CI), a college preparation program and community. Nearly 400 have earned post-secondary degrees, and roughly 20% of those graduates have earned multiple degrees.

Founded as an independent nonprofit organization in 2002, CI merged with the John Jay College Institute for Justice and Opportunity in 2015, broadening our programming for students who have been involved with the criminal legal system.

College Initiative’s three pillars—Academic Counseling, Peer Mentoring, and Community Support—help students grow as learners and as leaders.

Academic Counseling

  • CI Academic Counselors are on the frontlines of student support, providing the information, connections, and cultural capital that prospective students need to apply and prepare for college.
  • Academic Counselors help students set academic and professional goals, choose a campus and field of study, complete enrollment and financial aid applications, and begin college bridge programming.
  • Working with Academic Counselors helps students build self-advocacy skills, inside and outside of the classroom, and access critical resources and relationships.

Peer Mentoring

  • CI Peer Mentors are active, accomplished junior and senior level students and alumni who work with first-year students just beginning their college journey.
  • Mentors complete a comprehensive training program that focuses on interpersonal skills and leadership development.
  • The mentoring program sets up students for academic success all throughout college. Participation in mentoring has been proven to increase first-to-second year retention of CI students.

Community Support

  • CI offers various workshops and professional development opportunities. Past workshops have included a memoir writing series, grammar and writing workshops, drop-in tutoring hours, motivational interviewing workshops, and more.
  • CI hosts community capacity building events, such as reunions and open mics to foster a sense of community amongst our students.
  • For students that have been removed from college for several years or are new to higher education, CI hosts a 10-week College Exploration (CE) course that provides students a place to determine where they want to apply for college and how to apply, prepare for enrollment, and experience a college-level classroom. 
  • CI’s Outreach and Support Services unit also conducts information sessions at state prisons, jails, and community-based reentry organizations to encourage people to pursue higher education. The unit also connects CI students with an attorney clean up their RAP sheets and address housing and employment discrimination.

Join College Initiative (CI)

If you are interested in joining the College Initiative community, click here to complete the expression of interest form.

If you are interested in College Initiative but do not currently have a high school diploma or HSE,GED, click here to learn more about the Institute’s HSE Connect.

For more information, please contact us at