Thursday, December 1, 2011

PF 2012 January Topic Analysis

For more about Public Forum Debate including topic analysis, strategies and links to evidence, *click here*.

Resolved: The costs of a college education outweigh the benefits.

Rather than deal with another "democratic ideals" kind of resolution, it looks like the nation's debate coaches thought this topic was the better of the two choices.  If you are a parent paying for education you may be inclined to vote for the Pro.  If you are a student facing a menacing burden of student loans with limited job prospects you may be inclined to vote Pro.  Surely there must a judge somewhere who would vote Pro, right?
(Have you ever seen the salary of many public University Presidents? Talk about income disparity!)

Does Pro Have A Case?
If you want to find evidence supporting the idea the benefits of higher education outweigh the cost, you should have no problem.  There are literally thousands of articles, studies and papers beating the drum and advocating the benefits.  The Con will be quite comfortable.  The question is, can Pro make a case?  Most of the university studies are, well not surprisingly, advocating the benefits.  The College Board advocates the benefits.  Where does one find evidence to support the Pro advocacy?  While researching for this topic analysis I have skimmed through hundreds of articles and papers, especially recent ones and find very little.  So one must wonder if some reasonable case can be made apart from the economic return.  There is certain a slim chance of finding a university study which will essentially tell students, there is no net benefit to being here.

The Benefits of College Education
College education has benefits.  That is what parents, educators, leaders and business executives want you to believe.  There is little doubt that college graduates can potentially earn more money than high-school graduates and this income disparity, amounts to a significant benefit over the course of one's career life-time.  This potential income more than compensates for the cost of education, even one that is one-hundred percent financed through student loans.  So are there other benefits which can be examined?  One such benefit is the mobility of the college educated.  As we may of learned in the last resolution, upward mobility is one form of mobility which allows for a person in lower income strata to elevate themselves to a higher income strata.  But persons with college educations can also move around within the country from state to state and the value of their education will have benefits beyond what is possible with a typical high-school diploma.  Other commonly cited benefits include the ability to communicate, discipline oneself,  manage responsibility, and exhibit an acceptable level of general educational skills (reading, writing, arithmetic).

Potential Paths to Pro Advocacy
Certainly, the case for college education being beneficial applies to those who complete the education and find work in their field of study.  There is simply no way a letter-carrier will receive a high-wage because one is a college graduate and yet one statistic I found claims twelve percent of mail-carriers are college graduates.  Many factors contribute to employ ability and certainly any education which requires student loans to obtain will require an income stream to pay back.  So the current economy may diminish the benefits of higher education as many graduates face dim employment prospects.  Nevertheless, this argument is tricky as the current situation may only last a short time in relation to one's total career life-time.

A large percentage of people attempt college and fail to attain their goal and for them, the cost/benefit analysis is not favorable.  If one goes to school for three years, the accumulated debt can be high and then if they drop out, they will be faced with costs which outweigh the benefit  But is it topical with respect to the resolution?  Perhaps Con will claim the example does not apply because those who fail do not get a college education.

The Research Continues....
I will continue to browse and think about a way to establish a Pro case and hopefully, I can lay out soon.  For those students or coaches looking for their own path, I will make a suggestion.  Start with this article and begin to search for articles and papers by the various forum participants, such as Bryan Caplan, Charles Murray, Richard Vedder, and Daniel Yankelovich.

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