Princeton or Prison: Which is More Expensive?

Each month, when over $400 is automatically deducted from my checking account, I can’t help but wonder… why did I choose to go to a private university that cost in excess of $20,000/year (with scholarships)?   And why did 17 year-old me think it was okay to imprison then-future me to 17 years of debt?

So, it’s not particularly surprising that when I came across this infographic on Fast Co. Design comparing the cost of ivy league higher education and incarceration, I took pause. Perhaps one of the causes of such large individual student loan debt is the fact that at a federal level, more money is spent on corrections than higher education. In addition, a handful of states, including New Jersey, also spend more on incarceration than universities.  So, to answer the question posed in the title of this blog post…

It’s prison.

That’s right, according to this thought-provoking infographic from, an online resource for students and professionals in public administration, the state of New Jersey spends more to lock away a prisoner in Trenton ($44,000) than it does to send someone to Princeton for a year ($37,000).  Let’s do a little math here…

New Jersey has an inmate population of 26,757.  Nationwide, on average, a quarter of prisoners are nonviolent offenders.  So, if New Jersey took those 6690 nonviolent offenders and instead of sending them to prison, sent them to Princeton, the state would save nearly $19 million dollars.  Send them to state school, Rutgers and the savings balloons to almost $87 million dollars.

Multiply this savings across all the nonviolent offenders in our country’s 2 million strong prison population and you can save $15.5 billion dollars, which would come in handy going towards our country’s frighteningly large student loan debt of $830 billion.

prison vs princeton Princeton or Prison: Which is More Expensive?

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