California colleges take back seat to California prisons
San Francisco State University President Robert Corrigan, who is retiring this year, and Provost Sue Rosser noted today in Washington that California is spending nearly as much money on prisons ($8.7 billion, or 9.45 percent of its budget), as it does on all of higher education ($9.3 billion, or 10.1 percent of its budget).
Corrigan said the numbers are actually more stark. Total operational budgets for all 23 campuses of the state universities and for all nine UC campuses is $4.6 billion, less than half what the state spends on prisons.
This was by way of trying to fend off further cuts to Pell Grants, federal need-based aid used heavily by state college students to pay their $6519 annual tuition. It costs $50,000 a year to house one prisoner in California.
California used to be known as the state that provided a fine education to all comers at state expense, an investment that helped create Silicon Valley and the state’s golden past. Now California boasts the nation’s largest prison population, at last count 141,743 persons.
Over the years, the state began a self-fulfilling cycle of investing more in incarceration and less in education.
It is a situation that has joined the likes of anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and NAACP president Benjamin Jealous, who came together to argue that prison spending bleeds taxpayers, damages the economy and does little to improve public safety.
Corrigan said in the first Jerry Brown administration, California had 44,000 people in prison. Today it has 44,000 prison guards. “It costs seven times as much to put someone in prison as to educate them to keep them out of prison,” Corrigan said. Among African Americans age 18 to 30, Corrigan said more are in prison, on parole or in some part of the criminal justice system than are in college. Tallying the proportion of third graders who learn to read can give a pretty good forecast of future prison populations, he said.
Provost Rosser said SFSU has come up with a model for getting more minority students into the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields. Silicon Valley has been filling many of those positions with immigrants on H1b visas, claiming it can’t find native workers.
San Francisco State and City College of San Francisco now have five “Metro Academies” that provide a sort of core curriculum for students in career fields such as health care and now STEM. Rosser said the model has reduced drop out rates. She also acknowledged that the state universities have to take some responsibility for the shortage of minority STEM students because they train teachers, many of whom lack a solid science background.