Michael Regan graduated magna cum laude with a 3.86 grade-point average from Western Nevada Community College, but he never set foot on the campus.
Regan earned his general studies degree while at Nevada State Prison, where he is serving time for murder.
"I set a goal to do this, to educate myself," said Regan, 39, who has spent the last eight years incarcerated. "This is a bad time. I wanted to turn a bad thing into a good thing."
Regan was one of six inmates to receive associate's degrees in a ceremony held at the Nevada State Prison on Tuesday.
Dianne Hilliard, a counselor at WNCC, helps the inmates plan their classes.
"Everyone of them came up to me personally and thanked me for helping them," she said. "Being a part of that is so rewarding."
She said educating prisoners is important if they are going to be able to change.
"They're in prison now, but most of them won't be in prison forever," she said. "If you give them an education, you're giving them the tools to be productive members of society."
Regan said his education has changed his life and he expects to have a business degree by the end of the year. He said once he gets out of prison, he does not plan to return.
"Because of the fact that I've learned this is not where I want to be, I've made a commitment to change," Regan said.
He said that change could not come about without education.
Fellow graduate Marvin Bockting said the first thing he learned when he was sent to prison was how to break into homes from his roommate who was a convicted burglar.
"Why learn that?" he asked. "Give us a choice. Human beings will learn wherever they are at."
Regan said if prisoners are not given the option to go to school, the prison system will turn into a warehouse that turns out worse criminals than it takes in.
Ernie McKenzie, director of the adult education program, said that less than 5 percent of inmates who earn associate's degrees while in prison ever return once they are released.
Regan is not only a student in prison, he is also an educator. He teaches literacy to his fellow inmates.
"I take my college education and I teach the guys who don't know how to read," he said. "If we give them the foundation, maybe they'll follow in my footsteps."
Following in Regan's footsteps is more difficult than it used to be.
Before 1994, Pell grants were available to the inmates to help pay for tuition. In 1994, a crime bill prohibited prisoners from receiving the grant.
Alternate funding methods have been established, but inmates still have to pay for books and part of their tuition.
Bockting said an inmate can earn about $10 a month and it takes him between six to eight months to save enough money to pay for his books.
Regan said he will fight to keep the program open not just for himself but for those who follow.
"It's the best thing going here," he said. "I haven't seen one person come out of it that it didn't help."