Introducing Mount Tamalpais College

For nearly 25 years, Mount Tamalpais College—formerly known as the Prison University Project and Patten University at San Quentin—has provided a world-class higher education to students who are incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison. In 2022, we were granted Initial Accreditation by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. We are an academic institution unlike any other in the U.S: an independent liberal arts college specifically dedicated to serving incarcerated students.

A 25-year Commitment to Education

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act is passed. As a result, the number of prison higher ed programs nationally drops from over 300 to fewer than ten.

Oakland’s Patten University helps launch the College Program—together with an education administrator at San Quentin, a volunteer coordinator from University of California, Davis, and no budget. For 20 years, it remains the only on-site degree-granting program in a California prison.

The first student from the College Program is awarded the Associate of Arts degree.

After serving four years as a volunteer, Jody Lewen takes over as Director of the College Program.

The Prison University Project is founded as a fiscally-sponsored project of the Tides Center.

The Prison University Project receives a major grant from the Sunshine Lady Foundation and is incorporated as an independent 501(c)3.

Prison University Project staff begin to explore other college partners, as well as the feasibility of pursuing independence, after Patten University is acquired by UniversityNow.

President Obama awards the Prison University Project the National Humanities Medal.

The Prison University Project continues to explore the pros and cons of independence vs. establishing a new partnership; discussions with two potential college partners stall due to financial instability and leadership transitions at the institutions.

The Prison University Project discusses the prospect of seeking accreditation with the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) for the first time.

Patten/UniversityNow announces that they have sold their online platform to JFK University (part of the National University system) and will be closing Patten in 2019.

The process of applying for accreditation from ACCJC begins in earnest. Mary Ellen Petrisko, former president of the WASC Senior College Commission, is hired as a key advisor.

In February, the Prison University Project is awarded Eligibility status by ACCJC, signaling that the organization may move forward with its formal application for accreditation.

From March to July, the staff and board conduct an institutional self-evaluation process focused on the degree to which the Prison University Project meets the Standards of Accreditation.

The 229-page Institutional Self-Evaluation Report is submitted to ACCJC in August.

In October, the Prison University Project hosts a four-day site visit with a 10-member peer review team to determine the organization’s readiness for accreditation.

The Prison University Project is awarded Candidate status with ACCJC on January 27.

In September 2020, the Prison University Project completes its name change and officially becomes Mount Tamalpais College.

Mount Tamalpais College was granted Initial Accreditation by the ACCJC in 2022. In June, 20 students graduated with MTC diplomas for the first time.