About Us


Offering college courses inside prisons may be a foreign concept to some, but it actually has a long and complicated history. Prior to 1994, a variety of colleges offered classes inside correctional institutions. In 1994, however, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act overturned a section of the Higher Education Act of 1965 and prohibited incarcerated individuals from receiving federal Pell grants. As a result, many prison higher education programs no longer had the funding to continue and were forced to shut down.

Things changed for Chemeketa Community College in 2007 when a local businessman approached the school with the idea to start college classes in the Willamette Valley area prisons. Through this main donor and other generous donations, the College Inside program got its start by offering a couple classes.

Eventually, Chemeketa was able to secure other sources of funding, which along with generous donations, has allowed the program to expand. The most notable change came in 2016 when Chemeketa was selected as one of 67 colleges and the only one in Oregon to take place in the Second Chance Pell (SCP) Grant Pilot Program. While SCP funding allowed the program to expand and became its main source of funding, it does not cover all of the program's costs. Generous donors have helped fill in the gaps, assisting Chemeketa in producing 293 graduates of the program to date.

College Inside Today

Today, College Inside supports students at multiple Willamette Valley prisons. Students can pursue career and technical education through our Automotive Technology and Computer-Assisted Drafting (CAD) majors. They can also attain an Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer degree, a general curriculum designed for a seemless transtion to a four-year college in Oregon's University System. College graduation ceremonies happen every summer and the event is a wonderful celebration of the accomplishments of the students, the instructors, and everybody involved in supporting the program.

The recidivism rate for our 293 graduates is only 6%. Comparing this to the recidivism rate of 20.6% for the entire state of Oregon, which is already a national leader, shows how education can be an effective means in keeping individuals out of prison. Many of the program's graduates have gone on to graduate from four-year universities or have attained employment in their chosen field of study.

Funding is always a challenge to maintain course offerings and cover various expenses that the SCP grant cannot cover. We are reliant on generous donors to help keep our program functioning at full campacity.

Our Goals

The College Inside program has three primary goals. First, we believe that completing a college degree program is key to achieving all our other goals, so we work very hard to ensure that all students who start our program will graduate with a degree before they release from prison. Second, we believe the process of learning, regardless of environment, can be very powerful and life-changing. We encourage our students to take value not only in the coursework they study, but also in the process of working with others, challenging their worldview, and learning to appreciate differences in other people. We believe that students who can truly accept and seek out these experiences become better people, learn valuable skills, and ultimately are more employable and marketable. Finally, our program aims to reduce recidivism. We believe that the sense of accomplishment that comes with graduating from college, together with an enlightened view of themselves and their strengths, as well as their abilities to set goals and commit to achieving them, all contribute to a significant reduction in recidivism. Through education, we are able to help students move beyond the criminal thinking and behaviors that brought them to prison.

By not returning to prison, these college graduates contribute to significant savings to the state. They become better fathers and help to break the cycle of incarceration of their children, and are much more competitive in the job market, finding work or starting business that greatly benefit our communities.


College Inside employs instructors from our main campus in Salem and also recruits from the community specifically to teach inside the prisons. Many of the dozens of instructors that have taught for us have said that the classes they teach inside are truly some of the most rewarding and enjoyable of their careers.

One current Accounting teacher says “I want you to know that it has been one of the most fulfilling things I've done in my career to work with your program in the prison system.”

Our teachers recognize the value of our program and they feel they can truly make a difference in the lives of their students.