Robbing the Scholastic Peter to Pay for the Incarcerated Paul: The Show-Me State Showing Its Mulishness (2)

Robbing the Scholastic Peter to Pay for the Incarcerated Paul: The Show-Me State Showing Its Mulishness (2)

By Jon Marc Taylor

What Prisons Cost Missouri

The cost to Missouri students and their parents has been and remains direct and immediately punitive. The end result is that ever-fewer educationally qualified students, primarily from the poor and working-class strata, the majority minorities, many of whom would have been the first in their families to go to college, are progressively being squeezed out of higher educational opportunities. As already mentioned, the University of Missouri is now the most expensive public college in the Big 12 Conference, and many of the university system’s professional programs, such as dentistry, medicine, and optometry, are among the most expensive state-supported schools in the country.

By the 2003-2004 academic years, the UM system, along with other Missouri public universities cost of tuition was 50 percent above the national average.  In comparison, to the Kansas University system, the match-up was even more glaring. In 2001, it was 81 percent more expensive for an undergraduate student to attend the University of Missouri at Kansas City, as it was just thirty miles westward at Kansas University in Lawrence.

The reason for this tremendous disparity is the difference in state support the two university systems receive.  Though not immune from the forces affecting state support of higher education, Kansas with its “populist tradition,”   has maintained greater emphasis on widely affordable access to college-level opportunities. For example, shortly before the millennium, the Show-Me State contributed 6.9 percent of its budget to higher education, compared to the Sunflower State’s which was nearly twice that at 13.9 percent.16 This was not simply a one-time anomaly either. For “some 20 years,” commented John Wittstruck, Missouri’s deputy commissioner of higher education in 2001, “higher education in Missouri was underfunded significantly.”

While the State of Missouri invested less in higher education, what it spent on prisons soared. In 1983, corrections received 2.9 percent of the state budget. By 1988, just operating (and not the eventual billion-dollar-plus expense of new facilities building) prisons consumed 7.9 percent of the general revenue. Between 1985 and 2000, adjusted for inflation, the change in the state’s investment in higher education increased by 57 percent; however, the change in spending on prisons in Missouri ballooned by 236 percent.

For the 2002-2003 fiscal year, Missouri reduced investment in higher education by another $100 million, while correspondingly increasing prison spending by $92 million; nearly a dollar-for-dollar tradeoff. Missouri was then ranked second in the country for the most severe cuts in higher education (-10%) in 2002-2003, while overall nationally state governments had instead slightly increased (+1.5%) their university investments. As a result, the Show-Me State received a grade of D+ (i.e., for the percentage of family income needed to pay tuition and in financial aid for the poor)  in the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education’s  biennial  report,  “Measuring Up  2002.”  And yet mulishly in the following 2003-2004 budget, the state’s university system lost another $32 million in funding.

“Two pots of money fund public colleges and universities — the state and students,” comments Travis Relndl, a policy analyst with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.  “What you don’t get from one, you pull from the other.”  Tuition increases at public colleges, the association goes on to report, match losses in state funds “almost dollar for dollar.”  With the near dollar-for-dollar tradeoff coming from Missouri’s proportionally ever-shrinking higher education budget to fund the homegrown prison-industrial complex, the burden has shifted. Instead of the state subsidizing the largest proportion of public higher education’s costs, it has now become the students and their families essentially subsidizing the penal system.