Tuesday, March 3, 2015

PF Mar 2015 - Free Community College Tuition - Con Position

Resolved: In the United States, students should be guaranteed two years of free tuition to a community or technical college.

Con Position

Looking at the Con for this debate, I foresee several possible ways to over-turn the Pro case. Even though young people are drilled with the idea that post-secondary education is necessary, accessibility for the poor has been limited.  The Pro thus argues that all students in the U.S. should be assured a free tuition.  A key justification is, higher education is the key to a better life through higher wages, resilience to economic decline and a broad range of opportunities.  However, there is emerging evidence the value of a college education, in terms of its ability to demand high salaries and improve opportunities is diminishing.  In my opinion, the things of most value are the things which are the most rare and thus we see employers are now favoring individuals who possess unique and uncommon skills over the commonplace, standardized skills learned in colleges. Further, I think a reasonable case can be made that the cost of providing this education to untold millions may be excessive when coupled with the idea the return on investment may not be sufficient to justify the cost.

Devaluation of the Degree

Since the turn of the 21st century, globalization, the shrinkage of the U.S. job market and the glut of college degrees in the job market has served to devalue the degree.  Think about it.  What is your degree really worth, when many of your fellow classmates are working minimum-wage jobs? If a person with your degree is making $8.00 per hour McDonald's, why do you think you should make two or three times more? Why should an employer favor you two or three times more? The fact is, someone needs to flip the burgers at McDonald's and so the lower-skilled jobs will continue to place demands upon the labor market and if everyone in the labor market has a post-secondary degree, that becomes the minimum standard for low-skilled work.  But even if you don't buy the logic of that argument consider the devaluation resulting from the economic realities of the global economy.

IP (2008):
For decades, the typical college graduate's wage rose well above inflation. But no longer. In the economic expansion that began in 2001 and now appears to be ending, the inflation-adjusted wages of the majority of U.S. workers didn't grow, even among those who went to college. The government's statistical snapshots show the typical weekly salary of a worker with a bachelor's degree, adjusted for inflation, didn't rise last year from 2006 and was 1.7% below the 2001 level. College-educated workers are more plentiful, more commoditized and more subject to the downsizings that used to be the purview of blue-collar workers only. What employers want from workers nowadays is more narrow, more abstract and less easily learned in college.

For those you prefer empirical research one such study notes the following:

Carniero & Lee (2010):
We estimate that when the proportion of college participants increases from 50% to 60% (P˜t−a,b increases from 1 to 1.5) average college wages decline by 4.3%. We interpret this as a decline in average worker quality.

It is really difficult to state this delicately.  As post-secondary education becomes more and more accessible to lower quality students, the average value of graduates entering the job market declines in proportion to the quality of the students.

Carniero & Lee (2010):
Composition plays a much smaller role in the high school sector than in the college sector. This is an interesting result which may happen for several reasons. For example, the skills that determine selection into college may be less valued in high school type occupations than in college type occupations. This is possible in a model of the labor market in which there are two or more types of skills, as opposed to a model with a single type of skill. Individuals are differentiated in terms of a college skill and select on this skill when enrolling in college, but this is a skill that is not valued in high school occupations. Alternatively, in a model where the quality of college workers declines not because of an influx of lower quality workers, but because of a potential decrease in available educational resources per capita in college (but not in high school), this is precisely what we would expect. The cohort crowding hypothesis implies that a quality decline should only be visible among college workers, and not among high school workers.
In addition, the researcher further quantifies the conclusions by noting, for example, a steady decline in average ACT and SAT scores. The impact is clear.

Carniero & Lee (2010):
We find that an increase in the proportion of high school seniors taking the SAT is significantly associated with lower math and verbal scores. This provides additional direct evidence that increases in college attainment lead to declines in the quality of college attendees.

Another interesting discussion found in the research is speculation about resource crowding arising from the fact that limited resources in post-secondary schools may be over-capacity in terms of their ability to provide quality educational advantages to students. This suggests that in order to sustain the initiative to guarantee tuition, many more schools would need to be built.

Two More Years!

Some people prefer scholarly reviews of empirical data to make the point, while others are moved by impactful language which communicates to the heart and soul of many working class judges struggling to get ahead in the economy.  For this reason, I want to peek into a libertarian ideology which asks, if the government has wasted twelve years trying to educate its citizens then why should we think two more years will change anything?

Wilson (2015):
In the first half of the 20th century, a high school degree was worth more in the job market than it is today. Now, why is that? Scarcity. That’s how the market determines value. When fewer people had high school degrees they were worth more, because they were less common. In 1940, only 50% of young adults had high school degrees, and it was a valuable achievement. The government saw that initial value, and decided that it was going to mandate a high school education. Unfortunately, when something is mandated and everyone is forced to attain it, it loses it’s scarcity, and therefore, it’s value. Today, nearly 90% of young adults have a high school degree, and it’s no longer considered nearly as valuable as it once was. The same thing will happen if everyone is heavily incentivized, through Obama’s ‘free’ plan, to get a college degree. The more people that get college degrees, the less valuable each one becomes. This has already happened due to the government’s current policies that push higher education on the public.

We must consider the impact of a blank check declaration inherent in the statement students should be guaranteed free tuition.  All students are not created equal but the resolution does not make any distinctions.

Petrilli (2013):
A huge proportion of this $40 billion annual federal investment is flowing to people who simply aren’t prepared to do college-level work. And this is perverting higher education’s mission, suppressing completion rates and warping the country’s K-12 system. About two-thirds of low-income community-college students — and one-third of poor students at four-year colleges — need remedial (aka “developmental”) education, according to Complete College America, a nonprofit group. But it’s not working: Less than 10 percent of students who start in remedial education graduate from community college within three years, and just 35 percent of remedial students earn a four-year degree within six years.

Of Costs and Coercion

It goes without saying, a proposal to guarantee college tuition to students in the United States will cost money and the evidence shows that not everyone who takes advantage of the offer will benefit from the offer.  Further, the recent trends in American politics and the increasing power of radical right ideology would require a great deal of political capital to enact or would no doubt require an escalation of government coercion to pay for the program.  I have decided NOT to present evidence supporting these views because I have no doubt you will have no trouble finding that information on your own.

A Reasonable Alternative

If we can accept the fact the purpose of higher education is to equip employees with marketable qualities and if we accept that more and more higher salary preference is being given to employees possessing specialized or unique skills, perhaps it is more important to be recognized for one's competency rather than ability to complete a generalized course of academic study.

Dennis (2014):
The university defines competency-based education as allowing students to earn a college degree through demonstration of skills and knowledge in a required subject area through a series of carefully designed assessments. Students take tests, write papers and complete assignments. But rather than focus on seat time or credit hours, degrees are awarded through tangible evidence of learning. Outcomes and assessments are the bookends of competency-based learning. The US Department of Education is interested in supporting competency-based learning because 37 million Americans have some college credits but no degree.

The value of competency based approaches is it allows individuals to be recognized for innate or acquired skills without emphasis on where the skills were acquired.

Dennis (2014):
Jamie P Merisotis, president and chief executive of the Lumina Foundation, challenges the credit hour system. He writes: “Competency is a student-centred, learning-outcome-based model. Where you get the education is secondary to what you know and are able to do.” Competency-based learning saves students both time and money and creates multiple pathways to graduation. It allows for online and blended learning and for greater flexibility in mapping out a path to earning a college degree...In the United States, competency-based degrees are recognised by employers for hiring, promotion and advancement.

Wrap Up

I confess the analysis may not be rich in cards and much of that stems from the fact I am currently overwhelmed with work, in the real-world and in the debate tournament world.  Our season is about to end and we are currently wrapping up the most important part of our season which includes state qualifiers, national qualifiers and the state finals.  Nevertheless, I trust there is enough here for you to sink your teeth into and I wish you the best of luck.

Click here for the Pro Position


Carneiro, P. & Lee, S.(2010) Trends in Quality-Adjusted Skill Premia in the United States, 1960-2000; University College London, Institute for Fiscal Studies and Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice; accessed 2/20/15

Dennis, MJ. (2014); Competency-based degrees – The quiet revolution?; University World News; 14 February 2014 Issue No:307; accessed 2/20/15

IP, G (2008); The Declining Value Of Your College Degree; The Wall Street Journal;Updated July 17, 2008 11:59 p.m. ET; accessed 2/20/15

Petrilli, MJ (2013); Pell Grants Shouldn’t Pay for Remedial College; accessed 2/15/15; http://educationnext.org/pell-grants-shouldn%E2%80%99t-pay-for-remedial-college/ (Note, this article was also published on Bloomberg View here: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-04-30/pell-grants-shouldn-t-pay-for-remedial-college

Wilson, J.; (2015); Three Reasons Why Obama’s Free Community College Plan Won’t Work; accessed 2/15/15 at http://alibertarianfuture.com/big-government/education/three-reasons-obamas-free-community-college-plan-wont-work/#sthash.VEIJSdug.dpuf

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