College Initiative Upstate

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

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.



College Initiative Upstate is modeled on College Initiative in NYC founded by Benay Rubenstein in 2002, now part of the the Prisoner Rentry Initiative at John Jay College of Criminal Justice where CI is now celebrating it's 15th year!

In Tompkins County we are adapting this urban model to fit our particular context. CIU opened its doors as a fully integrated program of OAR in 2016.

CIU's work is holistic, highly collaborative and founded on a participatory model where students serve in key leadership roles. By leveraging education opportunities CIU becomes a turning point for those in reentry who want to begin or continue higher education.


Benay Rubenstein - Director

m: 607-351-5028

Suzanne Burnham - Academic Outreach & Program Coordinator

m: 607-882-0355

Sara Jenab -  Communications Coordinator & Peer Facilitator


College Prep: 6-week program preparing students for college placement exams, college enrollment, and fosters life skills for strong decision-making.

College Access:

  • 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 in collaboration with TCAT and Catholic Charities
  • 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

Pre-Release Support:

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

Frequently Asked Questions

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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.


Help Support a Student's Dream

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



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 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.