ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday the state will expand the opportunity for inmates to get college degrees as a way to keep them from returning to prison and save tax dollars.
Cuomo said the state pays $60,000 a year to keep a prisoner incarcerated and 40 percent return to prison. Current college programs in prison cost taxpayers just $5,000 a year per prisoner, he said.
Cuomo made the announcement at the annual meeting of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus in Albany that represents a key constituency for Cuomo, who is running for re-election.
The administration also doesn't know how much the whole program would cost or how many prisoners could be served, but said the cost will be covered in the 2014-15 state budget due April 1.
"Existing programs show that providing a college education in our prisons is much cheaper for the state and delivers far better results," Cuomo said Sunday."Someone who leaves prison with a college degree has a real shot at a second lease on life because their education gives them the opportunity to get a job and avoid falling back into a cycle of crime," Cuomo said Sunday.
Cuomo said the state will seek to provide college-level education in 10 of its prisons. While the state is seeking competitive bids from private institutions, those from SUNY and CUNY also would be accepted.
Leaving aside that Cuomo is only proposing this program because it is a re-election year and he wants support from the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus in Albany, I think what Cuomo is proposing is a good thing.
I agree that giving someone in a prison an opportunity to earn a college degree may give them employment opportunities they would not have had otherwise and I for one am happy to have my tax money go to such a program - so long as the schools that are involved are SUNY or CUNY schools.
Cuomo says the state will be taking competitive bids from private institutions, but I have a difficult time seeing how private colleges - even so-called "non-profits" - can compete with SUNY or CUNY on tuition:
Tuition for traditional students is $6,910 a year at the State University of New York and $5,800 at the City University of New York.
But Cuomo's education people who came up with this program no doubt have deep ties to some private institutions, so the state says "competitive bids" will be taken from those colleges too.
We'll see if this college program for prisoners doesn't become some Cuomo giveaway program to private colleges (which Cuomo seems to like better than SUNY or CUNY) or, even worse, for-profit "colleges" like Berkeley College or the University of Phoenix.
A close eye needs to be kept on this stuff.
In addition, one other point I want to make about Cuomo's claims that a college education gives an individual opportunities they might not otherwise have - if this is so, why has he raised tuition at SUNY so much during his tenure as governor?
Here was the plan he announced for tuition increases back in 2011:
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, suggesting that what he sees as rock-bottom tuition rates could be holding back the ambitions of the state’s public universities, introduced legislation on Thursday that would sharply increase what students pay to attend the State University of New York.
Mr. Cuomo’s proposal would raise in-state undergraduate tuition, now $4,970, by up to 5 percent annually for the next five years, and by as much as 8 percent annually at SUNY’s research universities in Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo and Stony Brook. The increase would affect 175,000 students on the 29 four-year campuses SUNY operates.
The legislation appealed to university presidents, who have long sought modest, automatic annual increases, rather than having to plead their case every few years for often-sharper tuition increases.
Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, described his proposal as an economic development initiative for the state, arguing that the added revenue would allow campus administrators to bolster research programs.
“The current tuition system does not serve our students, schools or state,” the governor said in a statement. “This bill brings rationality to the SUNY tuition system by allowing students and parents to reasonably plan for college expenses, instead of being subject to dramatic tuition increases and uncertainty.”
Cuomo and previous governors have consistently cut state aid to SUNY over the years, starving the colleges and forcing them to rely more and more on tuition to operate - then when relying on tuition became untenable for the colleges, Cuomo said the "rock-bottom" tuition had ghettoized the SUNY system and "held back the ambitions of the state's public universities," so he was going to allow tuition increases every year for the five consecutive years (never mind that SUNY colleges have consistently raised all kinds of fees over the years to make up for the lack of tuition inreases.)
Cuomo's hypocrisy here - cutting SUNY aid even as he claims the lack of tuition increases has hurt SUNY colleges - is par for the course from this hypocritical governor - this year he once again held back state aid from the SUNY system, thus setting up the need for future tuition increases that will be borne by the state system's students.
Couple that with the new college program for prisoners that may see state money head the way of private institutions and what we have here is a governor of the State of New York who is doing his very best to harm the State University of New York, starve the colleges for funds and force higher and higher tuition increases on students.
I know that my students who attend SUNY's all have to take on debt to do so - as much as $8,000 a year - and these are students who are eligible for full Pell grants and TAP.
After four years at that borrowing rate, they are going to graduate with at least $35,000 in debt (taking into consideration additional tuition and fee hikes and interest on unsubsidized loans.)
It seems if New York students want an affordable college education in Andrew Cuomo's New York State, they have to go to prison to get it.