California State University, Stanislaus (Stan State) is the ninth institution of higher education in the California public university system to offer Project Rebound, a longstanding initiative that offers an alternative to the revolving door policy of mass incarceration. Project Rebound demonstrates how the transformative power of higher education can increase community strength and safety by offering special services and a supportive environment to formerly incarcerated individuals.
Project Rebound was created in 1967 by the late professor John Irwin, formerly incarcerated himself, who earned his doctorate and taught at San Francisco State University (SFSU), which is part of the California State University (CSU) system. He created this program to assist students from the juvenile or adult justice system with enrolling into and matriculating from SFSU. Hundreds of formerly incarcerated people have earned bachelor’s degrees and higher during the past several decades.
In 2016, with the support of the Opportunity Institute and CSU Chancellor Timothy White, Project Rebound expanded into a consortium of 14 CSU campus programs. Since then, Project Rebound students systemwide have earned an overall GPA of 3.0 and had a 0% recidivism rate. In addition, 87% of graduates have secured full-time employment or admission to postgraduate programs.
Project Rebound began at Stan State in the 2019–2020 academic year and has been exceeding expectations every year since. Its focus on recruitment and its commitment to providing a supportive environment to formerly incarcerated students have resulted in the program’s enrollment percentages increasing by more than 2,000% in the past four years. In addition, Project Rebound has helped people on campus and in the community view formerly incarcerated people differently and appreciate the value of providing second chances. The program has also encouraged the incarcerated communities themselves by showing them that they can have hope for a future beyond prison. Project Rebound gives the families of formerly incarcerated students hope, too. It helps the families realize that their loved ones can have happy, joyful, successful lives. Attending Stan State and participating in Project Rebound broadens the opportunities for formerly incarcerated people. They don’t have to settle on warehouse work or truck driving for employment or careers; now, they can be life coaches, youth mentors, and role models who encourage young people by sharing their stories. When young people and members of the community hear these stories, their perspectives can change. By raising this awareness, Project Rebound can reduce the stigma surrounding formerly incarcerated individuals.
Recruitment is critical to the success of Project Rebound at Stan State. Participating students have been driven to recruit more students because they believe in the value of this program. They understand that with more participants in the program, Project Rebound can demonstrate its positive impact and secure more resources and support from the community to help it thrive.
In addition, Stan State’s Project Rebound program coordinator has partnered with various correctional facilities, parole and probation, and schools throughout San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties. The coordinator attends parole meetings and nourishes strong relationships with probation. At alternative schools, coordinators work with their teachers and staff members in developing a trauma-informed approach to support the formerly incarcerated students. Through this approach, the faculty and staff learn about why students who have been through the justice system and personal trauma may express that trauma through anger, withdrawal, or acting out, among other negative behaviors. In turn, the students feel supported and understood at the alternative schools. Coordinators provide informational workshops at these schools on Project Rebound and its services, and Stan State’s admissions process and enrollment requirements.
Formerly incarcerated students who may want to transfer to Stan State from San Joaquin Delta College and Modesto Junior College are courted as well. The program coordinator offers transfer workshops where prospective students learn about important deadlines, the admissions application, and the enrollment process. The coordinator also meets with the students one-on-one to ensure they are informed of the requirements to be eligible for transfer and the courses Stan State provides that will fulfill their academic goals.
Once the formerly incarcerated students are enrolled at Stan State, the Project Rebound coordinator and staff members provide ongoing services to retain the students and help them matriculate. For example, if a student walks into the Project Rebound office and has questions about where to purchase their textbooks, program assistants walk them to the bookstore—and stay with them until they find the textbooks they need. Additional services include counseling and wellness opportunities, financial assistance and scholarships, mentorships, parole and probation advocacy, professional development and career opportunities, housing assistance, and tutoring. Program assistants also conduct follow-up calls with the students to address any questions or concerns they may have. If students need to take breaks from the program, the coordinators follow up with them once a year. Essentially, Project Rebound at Stan State doesn’t allow anyone to fall through the cracks; instead, coordinators and staff members give the students the respect they need while being supportive and encouraging.
In the hopes of improving Project Rebound, coordinators send a survey to the program’s current students and alumni. The survey’s purpose is to learn about how Project Rebound has helped them and to identify any improvements that can be made to make the program more successful and relevant. Among the 10 questions are how Project Rebound supported the survey-takers and the services that helped them the most. The outcome of the survey is expected to reinforce the program’s success as it continues to seek ways to progress and advance.
The success of Project Rebound is measured primarily through its enrollment record since it began at Stan State four years ago. The figures are as follows:
- First year: Two students
- Second year: Seven students (250% increase from the first year)
- Third year: 16 students (129% increase from the second year)
- Fourth year: 40 students (150% increase from the third year)
- Fifth year (fall 2023): 55 students (38% increase from the fourth year)
The total number of students who have graduated is 17.
In terms of goals, Project Rebound hopes to achieve the following:
- In five years, have 75 students enrolled.
- In 10 years, have 100 students enrolled.
- For services, have a formerly incarcerated reentry home in place for the program’s students.
Through its supportive environment and extensive outreach, Project Rebound is promoting social justice by making higher education available to formerly incarcerated individuals and improving their social mobility and standing in the community.
Building relationships on and off campus is essential to establishing and developing Project Rebound. The Offices of Admissions, Evaluations, and Financial Aid must collaborate with the program to support the students as they embark on and continue their higher education. To promote the program, events can raise awareness of the benefits for participating students and the community. Reaching soon-to-be formerly incarcerated people who could be students in Project Rebound requires attendance at monthly parole meetings to identify and meet them. Connecting with colleges and universities where similar programs are available to formerly incarcerated people can offer opportunities to share transfer information with them and encourage them to matriculate. Through these relationships, Project Rebound can prove its value to the community and encourage donations and fundraising efforts to advance its cause.
“Project Rebound has had a profound impact on my life and has been truly life-changing. Since my release from prison, they have served as my foundation for success and unwavering support on my journey through higher education. Without Project Rebound, I genuinely believe I would not be where I am today. They have provided me with crucial resources, mentorship, and a supportive community that has helped me navigate the challenges and obstacles I’ve faced. Their belief in my potential and their commitment to my success have transformed my life and given me the opportunity to pursue my dreams. I am forever grateful for the life-changing impact Project Rebound has had on me.”
Cervando, Project Rebound participating student
“Project Rebound is a program I wanted to be a part of for years. This program has helped me develop a growth mindset and advance in my personal, educational and career goals. Project Rebound has offered me a part time job as a student assistant which has allowed me various opportunities, such as attending conferences, sharing my story in correctional institutions, mentoring peers, and attending various events.”
Carmen Padilla, Project Rebound participating student
Additional testimonials can be found at https://www.csustan.edu/project-rebound/testimonies