910 West State St. // West MLK St.
Ithaca NY 14850
Call (607)-272-7885
Walk-ins welcome 9am-3:30pm

College Initiative Upstate

"Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare today." Malcolm X 

About C.I.U.

Our mission... College Initiative Upstate (CIU) is a learning community of educators, students, and volunteers from Tompkins County who are working together to build pathways from criminal justice involvement to college and beyond.

CIU works with students who have had involvement with the criminal justice system including: incarceration, probation, parole, involvement with alternative to incarceration programs and arrest without conviction.



Benay Rubenstein the Director of CIU Upstate by:

phone 607-351-5028 or email collegeinitiativeupstate@gmail.com

Suzanne Burnham the Academic Counselor of CIU Upstate by:

phone 607-882-0355 or email collegeinitiativeupstate@gmail.com


Pre-Release Support:

  • Weekly CIU College prep sessions at Tompkins County Jail
  • One-on-one academic counseling by referral or request though OAR's mailbox at Tompkins County Jail

Post-Release Support:

  • One-on-one academic counseling and guidance
  • Navigating the college application process
  • Access to federal and NYS financial aid (FASFA) and scholarships
  • Assistance with getting student loans out of default
  • Semester-long bus passes
  • Book stipends
  • Tutoring for college placement exams and academic courses
  • On-going CIU community events and celebrations
  • Re-entry support in collaboration with our network of community partners
  • Chromebooks for students in need
  • Student Advisory Committee
  • Student led meeting to discuss the challenges and successes of academia (bi-weekly)


College Prep

C.I.U'S First Ever....Summer College Prep ATI Graduation 2017!


College Prep ATI (Alternative to Incarceration) is a ground-breaking collaboration between CIU, Ithaca City Court, TST BOCES, Tompkins County Probation and Tompkins Cortland Community College. This program prepares students for college placement exams, college enrollment and fosters life skills necessary for strong decision making. The reading/writing and math curriculum will be tailored to meet individual needs.

Summer 2017 Teaching Staff: Anna Regula, TC3 professor (Reading with Peers) and BARD College,  Michelle Candela-Jordan T-S-T BOCES, Martille Norton T-S-T BOCES Math, Kathryn Hamilton T-S-T BOCES Math, Ryan Marchenese T-S-T BOCES, and Valerie Reine: T-S-T BOCES

Support partners: Pat Buechel, Director of TC Probation,  Honorable Scott Miller, Honorable Rick Wallace and Honorable John Rowley: Ithaca City Court Judge's

OAR staff: Deborah Dietrich, Director of OAR, Jaime Coleman, OAR parolee case manager and client services, Anita Peebles and Jessica Shepard, OAR client services

STUDENTS from left to right: Michael Chapman, Michael James, Terrance Johnson, Brian Kessler, Gregory Jackson, Lisa Riley, Katie Pelto, Stephanie Foster, Frank Brittain, Jonathon Butler, Gina Majetka, Carrie Quigley and TC3 graduate and CIU's first student to be accepted to a 4 year school out of Tompkins County: Lucas Hahn. Missing from photo: Mercedes Alridge

CIU's Fall Prep 2017 Graduation!

STUDENTS from left to right: Nicole Treacy, Math tutor Jody Anderson, Kristy Strickland, Edrick Acosta, Antony Higgins, Joe Bice, Patrick "Shawn" Dort, Joe Lewis Hallback, Amy Heffron

CIU Spring Prep 2018 session: March 5th - April 27th 

CIU Fall Prep 2018 session: dates to be determined.     Call today for more information and to reserve your seat! 607-882-0355

Connect with us on Facebook

Frequently Asked Questions

Paying for College

These are free scholarships that can pay for part or all of your college journey. Click the links to learn more, or contact our office and we can work through this process together.


Federal Pell and New York State TAP grants are available to almost everyone coming out of jail or prison who has earned little or no income during the previous tax year. These grants can cover the entire cost of tuition and books.

Access VR, the Office of Adult Career and Continuing Education Services is part of the NY Sate Education Department. Access V-R can provide financial support tuition and books needed for college and university programs, trade and business school programs. “Disabilities” include mental, physical or learning disabilities that keep someone from working, or is interfering with your present job. Addiction can also be considered a disability. Access-VR informational sessions are held on a regular basis at Workforce NY in Ithaca.

For adult students over 24 with demonstrated financial need. Applicants must enroll for at least six credits per semester; have never been a college student or have been out of college for at least five years, or, have earned 15 or fewer college credits in the past five years and have never earned a degree. Pathways Scholarship offers up to $7,000. For more information call the Pathways office at: 607-844- 8222 x4261.

100 Minority Scholarship Gateway List. Created by Black Excel. Black Excel has presented gateways to well over 1000 Scholarships for students nationwide.

200 Free Scholarships for Minorities | from Black Excel. ... 60) STATE FARM INSURANCE Hispanic Scholarships ... 100) The Roothbert Fund Scholarships


Thank you to CIU partners including Tompkins-Cortland Community College (TC3), Empire State College (Ithaca Office), Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County (CCE) Reentry Services for Inmates of the Tompkins County Jail, Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga BOCES, Tompkins County Jail, Tompkins County Department of Probation and Community Justice, New York State Division of Parole and many of the community agencies and organizations listed in OAR's list of community resources.

Partner With Us

Collaboration is vital to the vitality and sustainability of CIU. If your organization is interested in a mutually beneficial relationship, please let us know in an email below.

CIU Director Awarded the 2017 James J. Byrnes Awards for Excellence

Accepting the award.

Passionately Speaking

The Award!

Benay was nominated by Suzanne Burnham, College Initiative Upstate's Academic Counselor, and Jaime Coleman, O.A.R. Parolee Case Manager for the outstanding work she not only initiated, but has continued to spearhead in the Tompkins County area, enabling individuals (whose lives have been impacted by the criminal justice system) to participate in civic participation, leadership, and long term success through the elimination of individual and structural barriers to higher education. Benay Rubenstein accepted the Tompkins Trust Co.; Legacy Foundation's prestigious award; presented to community members who've helped to enrich the quality of life in Tompkins County by their volunteer efforts. The James J. Byrnes Award for Excellence was established as a $100,000 endowment by the Tompkins Trust Co. in 1985, an endowment that has grown to over $3 million with the help of the Legacy Foundation, good investments, and bequeaths over the years. Benay was in good company among the seven other community member's who were recognized for their service this year 2017

Help Support a Student's Dream

Contact us for additional information regarding the program.