Spending Priorities Are a Consequence of Policy Priorities
Complaints that the State of Rhode Island has allocated more money for the Department of Corrections than for higher education miss the point. Put aside the fact that the comparison is arbitrary; the real concern should be the underlying policies that wind up making imprisoning people such a large expense.
That would be a pretty intensive examination, and I’m not really in a position to embark on it. Answers could range from needless or excessive imprisonments (of drug users, for example) to economic and welfare policies that attract people with a higher tendency to run into trouble with the law. Once again, folks are focusing on the symptoms and not the causes of Rhode Island’s predicament.
The comparison of the two expenditures does raise an interesting possibility, though:
In the new fiscal year beginning Thursday, the state will contribute just 15.5 percent of the money higher education needs to operate, with the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island, raising the rest, largely through tuition and other fees.
URI President David M. Dooley told the board that URI attracted a record $86 million in outside research in fiscal 2009. The previous year, the latest for which economic impact figures are available, URI’s research arm generated 1,400 jobs and $21.5 million in federal and state tax revenue, Dooley said. …
Overall, enrollment increased 10.4 percent between 2004 and 2009 — higher than the national average — while the state appropriation for public institutions of higher education plunged 29.1 percent during the same period — the steepest decline in the nation.
Why not begin charging inmates “tuition”? If they lack the resources to help pay for their incarceration, we could give them loans that they can pay back over the next few decades of their lives, as we do for college degrees. Perhaps the services available to them in prison should also be fee-based, with some cost for using the gym or renting movies. If Rhode Island is noteworthy for the arduousness and expense of doing time, here, those who see prison as a possibility in their future might avoid the state or improve their behavior while here.
On the other side of the comparison, I do have to note that I’m not but so sympathetic to the plight of colleges and universities:
“This model is not sustainable,” [URI Provost Don DeHayes] said.
“It really means we have to find some other way to support Rhode Island students,” he said.
Given the earlier comments of URI President Dooley, I can’t help but wonder what sort of economic model suffers from success. How is it that an institution with an above-average increase in paying customers (students) and additional revenue from its research arm can require more subsidization? If the answer is that the cost of educating students exceeds the amount that they pay, then expenses — including remuneration of faculty and staff — enter the conversation.