Rising Scholar Program offers education opportunities to inmates

Sara Jackson / Special to the Sun

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Lake Tahoe Community College strives to provide access to education for as many people as possible, including those who are incarcerated. To help reach that goal, Shane Reynolds started the Rising Scholars program in 2015. 

The Rising Scholar Program was started in order to serve aspiring scholars incarcerated in California’s correctional facilities, with the goal of providing access to education, while nurturing confidence in the students.  The program has now grown to serve both adults and juveniles, who are currently and/or previously contained in Northern California. 

Program Director Shane Reynolds states that on any given year they serve anywhere from 400-600 participants.  And this last year, they had a record high of 42 graduates. 

“Our job is to provide access to education, and we honor our students where they’re at, and where they come into play. So, we don’t dive deep into their criminal background. We are an open access institution, accepting the top 100% of students. We don’t discriminate off of backgrounds, race, gender, or ethnicity. We see education as part of our civic duty for folks to help rehabilitate themselves,” said Reynolds. 

“We see education as part of our civic duty for folks to help rehabilitate themselves,” said Shane Reynolds. 

The Lake Tahoe Community College’s Rising Scholar Program has a team that places importance on serving their community, and the many Californians affected by the criminal justice system. They believe in the effect of a humanizing educational experience and what it has to offer, and they put their students first. 

RSP takes priority in every decision that they make, as they know the affect it has on the students.  Their decision-making process involves them constantly seeking input from the students and taking their viewpoints into account when making important choices. By letting the student in on their decision-making process, RSP aims to provide a supportive and inclusive community, that nurtures personal growth and academic achievement. 

When asked how long students remain in the program for, Reynolds said, “It just depends on their sentencing. And it also just depends on how long they’re there for. So, if we have an adult, they can graduate within two and a half years. Same with the juveniles. But typically, the juveniles don’t stay as long. So really, what we want to do is give them a taste of college and build that relationship and trust so when they release, they can come and finish their degree.” 

The program has a 81.2% success rate. One of their students was just awarded a grant at this year’s American Century Championship. He is now registered at UC Riverside. 

“We had our first local juvenile graduate, who through this kind of three-headed partnership, that youth was actually able to leave detainment for that day and participate in face-to-face graduation,” adds Reynolds. 

Reynolds would also like to highlight the partnership with El Dorado County Office of Education and El Dorado County Probation, who supported that student while he’s currently detained and vouched for him, so he and his family could celebrate this win, and create a positive trajectory of these little wins. 

LTCC currently offers an AA degree in Arts for a Transfer degree in sociology through the Rising Scholars Program. This degree can be fully completed through an enhanced one-on-one delivery method. The AA degree in Arts for Transfer degree is granted by California Community Colleges to students who have completed their general education courses, major requirements, and electives.  An AA degree allows a student to transfer to a four-year college or university as a junior. 

For those students that qualify for the Promise Grant, they are able to have their tuition waived, including their course work materials and textbooks. 99% of students entering the Rising Scholar’s Program qualify for the Promise Grant. The program just received a $1.4 million grant to serve their local detained youth, as well as currently incarcerated youth and those when they are released. 

When asked what his hope for the program was in the future, Reynolds said, “It’s really kind of three spheres that I’d love for you to be able to highlight is, one we would like to branch out into offering courses in a digital space, both career technical education course in a digital space for adults and juveniles, and then traditional instruction as well. So, both CTE and traditional for adults and juveniles.” 

He added, “And then we would also like to really work as kind of creating a community of practice around serving currently and formerly incarcerated folks in South Lake Tahoe. So, increased partnerships with probation, which we’ve been working on. And then, a third kind of component for me is, really, I want to continue to build upon our juvenile successes locally. I really want to make sure that we’re supporting our juveniles, so we break the cycle of mass incarceration.” 

The Rising Scholar Program is always looking for volunteers to help tutor or to volunteer in the library to help catalog books.   

If you would like to donate to the program, visit

For more information on Reynolds and the Lake Tahoe Community College’s Rising Scholar Program, go to their website  

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