Despite fee hikes, UC still cheaper than prison

150 150 Lance Williams

Reposted from California Watch with permission of the author

Even with the latest tuition increase, a year at Cal is still cheaper than a year at San Quentin.

After soul-searching and protest, University of California President Mark Yudof last month persuaded the regents to hike UC student fees by 8 percent. The increase will likely push the total cost of a year at the flagship campus, UC Berkeley, above $32,000 for the first time.

That’s California Watch’s projection, based on UC’s “estimated undergraduate student budgets,” a spending estimate that the university publishes to help students plan. The budgets include suggested costs for room, board and other necessary expenses.

UC was facing a billion-dollar cut in state aid, so Yudof said he was forced to ask the student body to pay more. Still, UC is less and less of a bargain every year. Today’s undergraduates had barely gotten used to the 32 percent fee hike that went into effect this year when the new one was imposed, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported

Nevertheless, on a per-capita basis, UC is still cheaper than another big and expensive component of the California state bureaucracy – the prison system.

According to the Department of Corrections data [PDF], it costs about $49,000 to keep an inmate in a California prison for a year.

That’s 53 percent more* than the per-capita cost at the state university.

The legislative analyst’s office publishes a breakdown of the costs of incarcerating an inmate. In a way, it’s the prison equivalent of the student budgets.

Feeding an inmate for a year costs about $1,475, according to the LAO. That’s slightly more expensive than dining in a UC residence hall – around $1,200 prorated to 12 months, by UC’s numbers.

As you’d expect, prison inmates tend to be older than undergraduates (average inmate age is 37). They’re more than 90 percent male, while the UC’s student body is closer to 50-50. Prisons are a lot more crowded: San Quentin, the famed and aging prison in Marin, has about 5,000 inmates, 66 percent over capacity.

In all, the 10-campus UC system has 220,000 students and 170,000 faculty and staff. The prison system includes 33 prisons, 40 work camps and 12 community correctional facilities. It has about 171,00 inmates and about 63,000 staff.

UC’s annual budget is about $21.8 billion, much of it from federal or other non-state sources; the prisons, $10.6 billion.

* This corrects a math error in the post.


Lance Williams

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