Why Mike Rowe Is Dead Wrong to Attack Bernie Sanders and College

December 16th 2015

TV host Mike Rowe couldn't help but respond when Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders compared the costs of education and incarceration. But Rowe's now viral Facebook post misinterprets Sander's point about the importance of investing in early education.

"At the end of the day, providing a path to go to college is a helluva lot cheaper than putting people on a path to jail," Sanders wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

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The Vermont senator has made this argument before, but the condensed Twitter version has caused controversy. Rowe penned an extensive reply on Facebook the next day, defending those who choose to enter the workforce without a college degree, and calling Sanders a "knucklehead."

"In less than 140 characters, he’s managed to imply that a path to prison is the most likely alternative to a path to college," Rowe wrote. "There is no alternative for an education, and no hope for a person who doesn’t want to learn something useful and apply it. But there are many, many alternatives to college."

But that's not what Sanders meant. Rather, the candidate was arguing that providing a path to college was a cheaper alternative to paving a path to prison. That is, investing in early childhood education, after-school education, K-12 programs, and growing faculty to ensure that students have the resources they need to succeed.

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Without those resources—especially in low-income areas where K-12 education is underfunded—students are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system, according to the ACLU. This is the infamous "school-to-prison pipeline" that Sanders aims to end.

acluACLU - aclu.org

The second part of Rowe's argument involves a cost-benefit analysis that highlights the rising costs of a college education in the U.S. and the comparative benefits of working in trades that don't require college degrees. That is certainly a fair point, but Sanders was not specifically comparing the cost of a college education to the cost of incarceration—nor was he suggesting that prison was the only alternative to college.

To understand part of America's problem, take a look at California's prison system.

"According to Scott Graves of the California Budget Project, California is expected to spend more than $62,000 on each prison inmate in 2014-15—almost 7 times the $9,200 it will spend for each K-12 student," a Stanford study found. "Over the past two decades, California spending per prisoner has increased nearly three times faster than spending per K-12 student."

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This is part of the trend that Sanders is speaking out against: disproportionate spending on incarceration over education.

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