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California’s Confused Priorities

Last week California Common Sense (CACS), a non-partisan policy analysis group, released a report showing how the state’s higher education funding has been slashed in the face of major increases in spending on the state prison system over the past three decades.

The report, titled “Winners and Losers: Corrections and Higher Education in California”, states that while higher education receives 13 percent less funding than it did in 2011 (adjusted for inflation), Corrections has expanded its share of state funding by 436 percent.

This lack of investment has impacts that are far-reaching. For one, the state’s reduced spending on funding has forced middle class students to rely on loans—accruing debt in the process—as the state has been covering less and less of annual tuition and fees payments and students in this income bracket do not quality for need-based financial aid programs.

The costs of this priority shift are evident in more places than the wallets of students and alumni; CACS Senior Research Mike Polyakov warns that such disinvestment from higher education will lead to a brain drain from the state. The group points out that as more star faculty members take better-paying positions out of state, they take prospective students and their tuition dollars with them.

Ultimately, the lack of investment in higher education coupled with the impacts of the recession is having a devastating impact on the Golden State. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, the “gap between upper and lower-income families is now wider than ever” and “the number of families in the middle-income range is shrinking.”

Without greater investment in higher education, this is a trend that will not reverse.