Responsibility More Important Than Debt

Guest Columnists

Opinion: Student Debt? What About Student Responsibility?

By Cherylyn Harley LeBon

Leftist activists and their supporters continue an endless assault on the quality of private college education and the alleged “crisis” of student loan debt.

The reality is that a college education comes with a hefty price tag and commitment regardless of whether you attend a public, state-supported college, a private university, or an Ivy League institution. But a college education is still one of the best investments you can ever make in yourself.

American consumers think nothing of taking out a conventional bank loan for a $30,000-plus automobile, yet activists suggest wrongdoing when debt is associated with an education. A new car depreciates as soon as it leaves the lot and must be paid off in a few years. Student loans can be paid over decades, with lower interest rates than conventional loans, making them more affordable.

Education activists Robert Sherman, Mark Halperin and others want us to believe that student debt is forced on innocent, ill-informed college kids. Yet opponents fail to mention the financial responsibility involved with taking out student loans. A 2017 survey — research from LendEDU — revealed that nearly one in three college students acknowledged using his/her student loan to pay for a spring break vacation. Moreover, borrowers are required to sign endless amounts of paperwork and disclosures before accepting student loans. Loan repayment obligations are clear and transparent.

The same survey also revealed how nearly a quarter (23.80 percent) of respondents said they have used student loan funds to buy alcohol or pay bar tabs. One-third (33.40 percent) of students said they used student loan money to buy clothing or accessories, and a like number of students say they used student loan money to pay for restaurant meals and take-out food.

Nearly 7 percent of the respondents acknowledged they have used student loan funds to purchase drugs. And 5.60 percent of students participating in the survey acknowledged using student loan funds for gambling or sports betting. Activists neglect to acknowledge how misusing one’s financial resources should be a relevant factor in considering any remedy to a student loan “crisis.”

Many propose a one-size-fits-all approach to education, similar to the health care plan pushed through by the Obama administration. It is ironic that many elitists’ children attend private schools, yet they are unwilling to recognize the benefits of vocational education and the need for private schools as a free-market balance to our education system. Every individual has the right to choose the best educational option that works for them, their budget and their families.

Veterans, single mothers and minority students often attend private, career-oriented colleges in greater numbers and earn degrees that lead to rewarding careers and good-paying jobs. Educational activists hope to reduce private college education options in favor of a government-run, mandated system that will fail — just like many inner-city public schools are failing.

Labor statistics have revealed a massive shortage of skilled workers in America. This “skilled worker gap” has become one of the largest problems facing our nation and our labor force. Six million skilled worker positions are waiting to be filled. These are good-paying jobs, yet employers have difficulty finding qualified candidates to hire.

Perhaps it is because our colleges and universities have veered away from offering skills-oriented, practical and career-focused education. Many schools across the country are eliminating useless degrees and offering courses that will allow students to be compete in a fast-paced, competitive workplace leading to better career opportunities.

In addition, many students lack critical cognitive and behavioral skills — skills that are often more valuable to employers than specialized job training. In response, some colleges are now focusing on the “soft skills” necessary for jobs such as required class attendance, prompt class arrival, dressing professionally, leadership development, and how to respect and serve others.

Employers who are driving America’s future are actively looking for skilled, well-rounded employees and the job applicants with these sought-after soft skills are first to land competitive, higher-paying positions.

The left’s recipe for higher education is failing. The Trump administration and the Department of Education are working to roll back regulations promulgated during the Obama administration that had the intent of shutting down private non-profit and for-profit schools.

Congress needs to work actively with the administration and Secretary Betsy DeVos to pass legislation that will permanently eliminate regulations limiting educational opportunities for students. A free-market based educational system that offers students a wide variety of options is strengthened through competition and is the best way America can produce skilled workers prepared to compete in our global economy.


Cherylyn Harley LeBon is a lawyer, strategist and commentator. She wrote this for


Opinion: Is College Worth the Expense? Read On

By Antony Davies and James R. Harrigan

College is generally seen as a joyful rite of passage — a bridge between adolescence and adulthood that opens all sorts of doors to young people. The educational decisions that young people make influence the options they will face over the rest of their lives. And young people, being young, often make terrible decisions. Consider what follows to be friendly advice from two college professors who have seen it all before.

The first thing you need to know is that college is expensive. You’ve heard that before, but we don’t think you understand the words. Counting the income you won’t earn while spending four years as a full-time student, your college education will cost almost a quarter of a million dollars. State schools will cost less, private and prestigious schools will cost more, but this is the average. To put that in perspective, that’s in the ballpark of the price of the median new home in the United States.

We know that you’ve been told that college is a good investment. Who tells you this? Colleges themselves — though the average $35,000 per year per student they charge in tuition and fees may cloud their opinions. Importantly, colleges get their money years before the student learns whether the degree was worth its price. What colleges don’t tell you is that a college degree isn’t necessarily valuable. But any number of college majors are.

For all that you hear about graduates who can’t afford their student loan payments, there are some graduates you never really see complaining. Among these is virtually everyone who graduated with a major in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). These graduates do quite well for themselves. According to data from, average engineering, mathematics, statistics and economics majors can expect to earn $2 million to $5 million more than the average high school graduate over the course of a career.

At the other end of the scale are majors ending in the word “studies,” and majors that involve child education or family services. A child and family studies major, for example, barely recoups the cost of the degree over the course of an entire working career. The average early childhood education major with a four-year degree can expect to earn 20 percent less over a career than the average auto mechanic. The average social work major will earn 25 percent less than the average electrician. And this ignores the quarter of a million dollar cost of those degrees.

For those who choose to go to college, our advice is to delay choosing a major. Deciding the trajectory of one’s entire life at age 18 is simply not sensible. And while deciding at age 20 might not be the best idea either, it is a significantly better idea. Students at the end of their sophomore year have a lot more experience with college than their freshman counterparts. They also have two more years of life experience, which might not sound like much but is about a 50 percent increase in the number of quasi-adult years they have lived.

Most colleges require all students to take the same set of core courses. Take those before committing to a major. This will give you the time and opportunity to get a feel for what you like and where your talents lay.

Of course there is more to an education than a paycheck. If your dream is to educate children or to work in any of the lesser paying fields, go with God. But do so with open eyes. A quarter of a million dollar investment is not something to be made without clear and sober forethought.

And if you choose to make that investment but then find you can’t earn enough to afford your student loans, do not turn to the government to rescue you. With the freedom to choose your own path comes the responsibility to live with the consequences. Choose wisely.


Antony Davies is associate professor of economics at Duquesne University. James R. Harrigan teaches in the department of Political Economy and Moral Science at the University of Arizona. They host the weekly podcast Words & Numbers. They wrote this for

Opinion: The ‘Big Man on Campus’ Soon to Be a Mere Shadow

By Stephen F. Gambescia

Almost 18 million undergraduate students will roll back to our college campuses and, naturally, there will be news reports about enduring issues such as rising tuition, enrollment success or challenges, and the hot majors, as well as contemporary issues such as campus security, student safe spaces and where people go to the bathroom. What you will not likely read about is the under-enrollment by males in college today.

In 1970, males accounted for almost 60 percent of the proportion of full-time undergraduate students attending all colleges. Women have made a remarkable increase in attending college; whereby this fall 6 million women will attend undergrad full time — up from just over 2 million in 1970. Good for them!

However, the proportion of females to males has almost reversed. Not good!

Even when looking at subgroups such as part time versus full time, community colleges versus four-year colleges, and the types of colleges in the United States, the face of college students today is overwhelmingly female. In fact, looking at smaller private, nonprofit St. Elsewhere-type colleges, the proportion of females to males is about 70 percent to 30 percent.

But don’t males often defer college or have episodic starts and stops? Decades ago they did, as they often went into a trade or manufacturing type job or served in the military. But when you look at the enrollments in adult degree-completion programs, the female to male ratio becomes even more dramatic with the proportion of females at 80 percent.

The steady slide of males enrolling in college, as well as the predictions of the low proportion of males on college campuses in the future, has gone mostly unnoticed in society. The college recruitment books of “three (students) under a tree” will soon have the male as a mere shadow.

When discussed, the quick visceral reaction by female progressives, among others, is something such as “Tough. These privileged males are getting their come-uppance; it is our turn.”

Additionally, it is understandable not to expect concern over a male’s station in life with the steady beats of “this is the year of the women;” “Let’s break the glass ceiling;” pay disparity; and there are not enough women working in (fill in the blank occupation).

Such a response in the long run, does not bode well for any of us. For what these males don’t have, they cannot give back — to women, to families, to the economy or to public discourse. Even worse, disaffected men in any community portends a range of social problems.

For example, men, especially young men, who do not feel a sense of purpose in a society will spend their days idle, or they may turn to crime. Matchmaking chatter of women “marrying down” in the long run is not cute or romantic. Women deserve strong, capable and resourceful partners, and raising a family is hard work. By nature, “being in the family way” takes two for a reason.

A serious discussion of this issue should in no way be disparaging of those who do not go to college — those young men who choose to do other things. However, the evidence shows this is not happening in large part. In the new “knowledge-based economy” male unemployment, underemployment and males simply not looking for a job is staggering. How males spend their days should be a concern for all of us.

Programs and staff espousing the need for diversity and inclusion on college campuses, oddly enough, have not reached the actual classroom. Enduring and contemporary topics ripe for students’ analytics and class discussion are tempered or flat when presented to a homogenous group. The “male perspective” (good, bad or indifferent) is fading in many classrooms in the academy.

What’s a college to do? To start, reaction needs to go well beyond boosting the sports programs or putting in “male dominated majors.” Males lagging academically starts early in most education settings. One well-recognized contributor by education scholars is by nature boys are about two years physically, socially and with some cognitive skills, behind girls. Therefore, we could delay the boys’ start time or do not hesitate to keep them back if they are not ready to advance a grade.

Oddly enough, while education experts invest much time and preprofessional teacher training to get an understanding of children’s learning styles, in practice male friendly pedagogy is generally not exercised with boys. Add to this the zero tolerance school policies and the barrage of “Johnny be good” expectations, and you do not have an environment conducive to a young boy’s learning. This does not mean we give young boys a pass for being “all boy,” when they do something wrong — quite the opposite. It does mean recognizing the time, space and manner of how boys learn — that’s inclusion!

A less-than-endearing environment is developing on college campuses for young men. They arrive marked as a risk that needs to be managed, and consequently they have to participate in orientations, classroom discussions and co-curricular activities that tell them they are the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

It seems that men with high-risk profiles are greeted with overt skepticism about their prospects; while many women with high-risk profiles (e.g., single mothers) enjoy support programs designed to improve their chances of doing well in college.

Given these trends, there should be little worries over the Big Man on Campus, as he is becoming a mere shadow.


Stephen F. Gambescia is professor of health services administration at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He wrote this for

The Conversation

I went from prison to professor – here’s why criminal records should not be used to keep people out of college

August 16, 2018

The U.S. leads the world in the rate of incarceration

Stanley Andrisse

Assistant Professor of Medicine, Howard University

Disclosure statement

Dr. Stanley Andrisse is the executive director of From Prison Cells to PhD, Inc. This organization helps formerly incarcerated people obtain higher education.

Beginning next year, the Common Application – an online form that enables students to apply to the 800 or so colleges that use it – will no longer ask students about their criminal pasts.

As a formerly incarcerated person who now is now an endocrinologist and professor at two world-renowned medical institutions – Johns Hopkins Medicine and Howard University College of Medicine – I believe this move is a positive one. People’s prior convictions should not be held against them in their pursuit of higher learning.

While I am enthusiastic about the decision to remove the criminal history question from the Common Application, I also believe more must be done to remove the various barriers that exist between formerly incarcerated individuals such as myself and higher education.

I make this argument not only as a formerly incarcerated person who now teaches aspiring medical doctors, but also as an advocate for people with criminal convictions. The organization I lead – From Prison Cells to PhD – helped push for the change on the Common Application.

My own story stands as a testament to the fact that today’s incarcerated person could become tomorrow’s professor. A person who once sold illegal drugs on the street could become tomorrow’s medical doctor. But this can only happen if such a person, and the many others in similar situations, are given the chance.

There was a time not so long ago when some in the legal system believed I did not deserve a chance. With three felony convictions, I was sentenced to 10 years in prison for drug trafficking as a prior and persistent career criminal. My prosecuting attorney once stated that I had no hope for change.

Today, I am Dr. Stanley Andrisse. As a professor at Johns Hopkins and Howard University, I now help train students who want to be doctors. I’d say that I have changed. Education was transformative.

US incarceration rates the highest

The United States needs to have more of this transformative power of education. The country incarcerates more people and at a higher rate than any other nation in the world. The U.S. accounts for less than 5 percent of the world population but nearly 25 percent of the incarcerated population around the globe.

Roughly 2.2 million people in the United States are essentially locked away in cages. About 1 in 5 of those people are locked up for drug offenses.

I was one of those people in prison not so long ago.

Early life of crime

Growing up in the Ferguson, North St. Louis area, I started selling drugs and getting involved with other crimes at a very young age. I was arrested for the first time at age 14. By age 17, I was moving substantial amounts of drugs across the state of Missouri and the country. By my early 20s, I found myself sitting in front of a judge and facing 20 years to life for drug trafficking charges. The judge sentenced me to 10 years in state prison.

When I stood in front of that judge, school was not really my thing.

Although I was a successful student athlete and received a near full scholarship to play football for Lindenwood University, a Division II college football program, I found it difficult to get out of the drug business. Suffice it to say, there were people in the drug world who wanted me to keep moving drugs. And they made it clear that they would be extremely disappointed if I were to suddenly stop. So I continued. For this reason, I didn’t view my undergraduate college experience the way I view education now.

The transformative power of education

Education provides opportunities for people with criminal records to move beyond their experience with the penal system and reach their full potential. The more education a person has, the higher their income. Similarly, the more education a person has, the less likely they are to return to prison.

A 2013 analysis of several studies found that obtaining higher education reduced recidivism – the rate of returning to prison – by 43 percent and was four to five times less costly than re-incarcerating that person. The bottom line is education increases personal income and reduces crime.

Despite these facts, education is woefully lacking among those being held in America’s jails and prisons. Nearly 30 percent of America’s incarcerated – about 690,000 people – are released each year and only 60 percent of those individuals have a GED or high school diploma, compared to 90 percent of the overall of U.S. population over age 25. And less than 3 percent of the people released from incarceration each year have a college degree, compared to 40 percent of the U.S. population.

Rejected by colleges

I had a bachelor’s degree by the time I went to prison but never got the chance to put it to use. Then something tragic happened while I was serving time that prompted me to see the need to further my education. Due to complications of diabetes, my father had his legs amputated. He fell into a coma and lost his battle with Type 2 diabetes. I was devastated. This experience made me want to learn more about how to fight this disease.

While incarcerated, I applied to six biomedical graduate programs. I was rejected from all but one – Saint Louis University. Notably, I had a mentor from Saint Louis University who served on the admission committee. Without that personal connection, I’m not sure I would have ever gotten a second chance.

I finished near the top of my graduate school class, suggesting that I was likely qualified for the programs that rejected me.

Restore Pell grants to incarcerated people

Based on the difficulty I experienced in going from prison to becoming a college professor, I believe there are things that should be done to remove barriers for incarcerated or formerly incarcerated people who wish to pursue higher education.

One of those barriers is cost. When the government removed Pell funding from prisons by issuing the “tough on crime” Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the vast majority of colleges offering courses in prison stopped. Due to the federal ban on receiving Pell grants while incarcerated, most of those serving time are not able to afford to take college courses while in prison. The Obama administration took a step toward trying to restore Pell grants for those in prison with the Second Chance Pell pilot. The program has given over 12,000 incarcerated individuals across the nation the chance to use Pell grants toward college courses in prison.

Through the program, 67 colleges and universities are working with over 100 prisons to provide college courses to the incarcerated.

Under the Trump administration, this program is at-risk of being discontinued at the end of 2018. Historically, some have argued that allowing Pell dollars to be used by those in prison takes precious Pell dollars from people who did not violate the law. However, the current Second Chance Pell pilot funding being directed to prisons, $30 million, accounts for 0.1 percent of the total $28 billion of Pell funding. Even if the program were expanded, based on historical levels, it would still amount to one-half of 1 percent of all Pell funding. This is justified by the impact that Pell dollars would have in prison in terms of reducing recidivism.

Remove questions about drug crimes from federal aid forms

Federal policymakers could increase opportunities by removing Question 23 on the federal student aid form that asks if applicants have been convicted of drug crimes. A 2015 study found that nearly 66 percent of would-be undergraduates who disclosed a conviction on their college application did not finish their application.

Federal student aid applicants likely feel the same discouragement. I felt discouraged myself when I was applying to graduate programs when I came across the question about whether I had ever been convicted of a crime. It made me feel like I was nothing more than a criminal in the eyes of the college gatekeepers.

This question also disproportionately effects people of color, since people of color are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system. Furthermore, the question runs the risk of making formerly incarcerated people feel isolated and less valuable than those who’ve never gotten in trouble with the law.

When people who have been incarcerated begin to feel like they don’t belong and higher education is not for them, our nation will likely not be able to realize their potential and hidden talents.

It will be as if we have locked them up and thrown away the key.

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