Prison, the college alternative?

Thousands of New York State families struggle every day to pay the costs of college education for their children. In most cases students are forced to mortgage their futures by borrowing to pay for college, graduating with an average debt of about $30,000 while earning a bachelor’s degree.

Now there may be an alternative for families who don’t have the money for college and students who don’t want to go deep into debt.

They can go to prison.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has announced a new statewide initiative to give incarcerated individuals the opportunity to earn a college degree through funding college classes in prisons across New York. The governor cites studies that show college education for prisoners dramatically decreases recidivism rates while saving money. Those who earn a college degree while in prison are less likely to end up behind bars again, he said, therefore decreasing the number of inmates in New York state prisons.

The initiative will provide college level education at 10 New York State prisons, one in each region of the state. The program would offer both associates and bachelor’s degrees.

“Giving men and women in prison the opportunity to earn a college degree costs our state less and benefits our society more,” Cuomo said. “New York State currently spends $60,000 per year on every prisoner in our system, and those who leave have a 40 percent chance of ending up back behind bars. Existing programs show that providing a college education in our prisons is much cheaper for the state and delivers far better results. 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 may be right about providing college educations to criminals, but shouldn’t New York State be doing more to help hard-working, law-abiding families with college?

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