Alex Shaw (AS): Annie, first, what was your thesis about?
Annie Vela (AV): My thesis was about US government changing allocation of funding from public prisons to public education.
AS: How did you arrive at this topic?
AV: When Kate (Stirling) asked us to start thinking of a topic over the summer, I started thinking about which of my economics classes I really enjoyed my Urban Economics class with Bruce Mann, which I loved. I’m very interested in how economic policy tangibly affects actual people. So I thought about topics that focused on people, and education is super important to me, and the prison system is pretty messed up, so I was thinking about where in the US budget, which parts could be moved around. There seems to be a change in the trend between what society wants, and where we spend our money.
AS: What did you find? Was it what you expected?
AV: I’ve always assumed that society wanted fewer people to be incarcerated, and more people to be educated, so I expected for there to be a huge difference between what we spent on incarceration and education for students, especially because it is supposed to be important to people, but instead, public prison spending has increased 300 times the amount as public education has over the past 10 years. Economics would tell us that this allocation of spending reflects a recent preference towards public prisons over public education.
AS: Going off of that, do you think the market represents our preferences accurately?
AV: I personally think we should spend more on education, and I don’t think we are at the equilibrium level of spending for education and prisons. We still spend so much more on education than on incarceration, but the relative change in funding has changed so rapidly so quickly, and that’s what made me interested in this topic. Spending for prisons has shot up, while spending for education is being cut.
AS: What level of education did you look at? Primary, secondary, tertiary? Public and/or private?
AV: I looked at K-12, and only public.
AS: Does this trend extend to higher education?
AV: I can’t say. I tried to narrow it down to K-12, to make sure the topic wasn’t too broad.
AS: What are somethings you wished you had known going into this? Do you have any advice for those who are going to write their thesis?
AV: Research is my favorite part of the process, and it takes so much time. My advice would be don’t write off sources that you don’t completely understand, because they can still hold so much weight, and you can still piece together valuable information from them. Talk to your advisor if you need help figuring out what information from your sources is valuable. Also, no matter who you are, you always wish you had more time to write. I would say the hardest part was getting the full rough draft done but once I had my ideas on paper, it was so much easier for me to see what I need to change/add. So I would recommend either getting a rough draft done quickly, or at least getting all of your ideas on paper.