Wednesday, March 4, 2015

PF Mar 2015 - Free Community College Tuition - Pro Position

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

Pro Position

If Pro were to approach this resolution with the idea the USFG should provide free tuition for community college students, without specifics, the Pro may have a difficult time unless the benefit outweighs the cost. Consider that 12.8 million pay on average, $3300 per year (src: AACC Fact Sheet 2014); the total cost would be about $42.24 billion per year. Who will guarantee this amount and from where will the money come? Further, it is reasonable to assume if someone should guarantee free tuition, the number of people taking advantage of the opportunity would increase greatly.  Perhaps the resolution should have specified "qualified" students and then we could argue about what constitutes "qualified".  Nevertheless, when considering the fact there should be a guarantee of free tuition, there is nothing which requires the federal government take the bruden.  The guarantee can be provided by the states, local authorities, or businesses. Also, we must consider that the cost of post-secondary education is considered well-worth the expense when we look at the long term benefits.  The evidence you find will show, that adults with degrees typically earn more than their high-school-only counter-parts and they are more likely to survive down-turns in the economy when companies begin laying-off workers.  A sustained, higher income results in more taxes being paid over the long haul.  Even in the face of some Con evidence which shows the advantages of college education are not as great as before, no one (other than the Con debater, perhaps) is saying, "No! Higher education is not worth it!" Finally, and this may be a nitpick, I would like to point out the resolution does NOT specify ALL students. So the lack of specificity can work to the advantage of Pro since it is logical to assume qualifications go without saying.  For example, most people (judges) will agree the student should at least complete the program in good academic standing otherwise, the tuition is not covered.  Some businesses, for example, will reimburse their employees for additional college course-work with stipulations they attain a minimum grade-point average, the courses will benefit the career choice and the employee completes the full term of the course.

Government Help

Most people are immediately suspicious when they hear something like, "Hi. I'm from the government and I'm here to help." It's at that point many people will put their hands on their wallets.  However, free tuition for students can be and is being proposed in some locales within the U.S.

Kelchen (2014):
Several states have explored the possibility of so-called “free community college” programs, which would cover the cost of tuition and fees for recent high school graduates who meet certain other eligibility criteria. Tennessee was the first state to pass such a plan, making first-time, full-time students who file the FAFSA and complete eight hours of community service each semester eligible for two years of tuition and fee waivers. Legislators in Mississippi, Oregon, and Texas have proposed similar plans, although none of those have been adopted at this time. The most recent plan for free community college comes from the city of Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that the city would cover up to three years of tuition and fees for eligible graduates of the Chicago Public Schools. In order to be eligible, students must have a 3.0 high school grade-point average, not require remediation in math or English, and file the FAFSA. (It appears that part-time students will be eligible for the program, unlike in the state proposals.) The district estimates that about 3,000 students would qualify for the program out of the roughly 20,000 students who graduate each year.

Each of the proposals are based on varying qualifications and have different funding models and links in the article provide more details. Here, we are hanging our case on the lack of specificity in the resolution as we observe that not all students are college-ready and the resolution does not force us to claim ALL students nor does it expect us to look to some kind of LD-like moral obligation or value of distributive justice.  Pro is standing on the ground there are good students who deserve to go to college and they can't due to financial constraints.  In a first-world nation like the U.S. they should be guaranteed that opportunity.

The article takes an even-handed approach to the issue.  However, when we consider the long-term impact both sides of this debate must recognize we do not know what we do not know.  By this I mean future impacts can only be predictions since we are not currently guaranteeing students free tuition and other nations may not provide a good model since their entire economic structure is often based on a welfare-state philosophy.

Kelchen (2014):
Some students from middle-income families will get additional financial aid as a result of the program. But the concept of “free college” could even benefit Pell recipients who are unlikely to see any additional financial aid under the program. Research has shown that making students aware of their financial aid eligibility results in increased college attendance rates, and similar effects could result due to the programs' publicity. For those reasons, it is important that the Chicago and Tennessee programs be rigorously evaluated to see who benefits, and for what groups of students the program passes a cost-effectiveness test.

And finally, Kelchen does remind us that adults can also be students and the advantages of "free" tuition programs can be even greater for them.

Kelchen (2014):
It is also important to consider extending the programs to returning adult students, who typically do not qualify for these programs. The median age of community college students is approximately 23, and a program that provides assistance to these students (most of whom have exceptional financial need) could prove to be very beneficial. Finally, it is important to publicize these programs (and their conditions) widely so students and their families know that community college can be an affordable, high-quality educational option.

Shrinking Big Government

A powerful argument can be made that government could provide free college tuition and actually pay less than it is today.  And...the benefit is, the federal government could spend less while providing free tuition to all public schools, not just two-year community colleges and tech schools.

Covert (2014):
Tuition at public colleges came to $62.6 billion in 2012, according to the latest government data. That’s less than what the government already spends to subsidize the cost of college through grants, tax breaks, and work-study funds, which comes to about $69 billion. It spends another $107.4 billion on student loans. That means that with the money it already spends to make college affordable, the government could instead subsidize public college tuition, thereby making it free for all students. This would not just mean anyone could attend a higher education institution without worrying about cost, but it could incentivize private ones to reduce their costs in order to compete with the free option.

The Shifting Burden

Any adult or student observer of college costs will agree that cost of a college education is sky-rocketing.  One may reasonably ask, why is the cost of tuition increasing dramatically year-after-year, well beyond the rate of inflation?  Does it really need to be so high? Many are suspicious and critical of the costs and school boards and over-sight committees assigned to justify the costs often point to drops in state funding which is offset by increases in tuition costs.

GAO (2014):
From fiscal years 2003 through 2012, state funding for all public colleges decreased, while tuition rose. Specifically, state funding decreased by 12 percent overall while median tuition rose 55 percent across all public colleges. The decline in state funding for public colleges may have been due in part to the impact of the recent recession on state budgets. Colleges began receiving less of their total funding from states and increasingly relied on tuition revenue during this period. Tuition revenue for public colleges increased from 17 percent to 25 percent, surpassing state funding by fiscal year 2012.

Amazingly, experts interviewed by the GAO described how states will resolve budgeting priorities but cutting subsidies to higher-education knowing full well the burden of the cost will shift to the public.

GAO (2014):
State funding declines may be attributable, in part, to prevailing economic conditions and competing state budget priorities. Likewise, 19 of 25 experts and organizations we interviewed cited the 2007 to 2009 recession as a factor that directed trends in state funding. Several of these experts and organizations described public higher education as the “balance wheel of state economies,” where states reduce higher education funding during constrained economic times, in part because public colleges can use tuition as an additional funding stream unlike other program areas that do not have alternative sources of revenue.

Sadly, the state government policies are short-sighted and self-serving.  As students and parents go more and more into debt to pay for college education, there is less to spend on other goods and services which feed-back into the economy.

PTA (2014):
[Washington State Senator, Barabara] Bailey said the newly graduated often delay major life decisions such as buying a home and starting a family while struggling to pay off student loans. On average, she said, students graduate from college with about $24,000 in debt. Both she and Braun said the state's economy would benefit from having smaller financial burdens on young, educated residents, and both said the state's universities would get more money from state government to offset the decrease in tuition revenues.

But, let's not shift all the blame on states.  We can also argue the educational institutions must take their share of the burden and do what they can to reduce expenses.  Perhaps many of you are aware, for example that University Presidents (yes, I know not necessarily two-year institutions - but hey - let's poison the well a little, just to make a point) often take enormous seven-figure salaries and perhaps administrative costs are disproportionately large.

Shaw (2011):
the North Carolina constitution says that a UNC education should “as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense.” With UNC schools’ undergraduate tuition and fees ranging from $3,829 to  $6,874, it’s not free now. But it is low in comparison to other public institutions. Many opponents of increases argue that raising tuition beyond the 6.5 percent would violate the “as free as practicable” standard. Most of these opponents assume that the only way to keep tuition low is to increase the subsidy from the state (currently $12,868 per student, according to the Board of Governors). But there’s another way to keep tuition “as free as practicable.” That is for the university to live within its means, just as individual North Carolinians are doing in these stringent economic times. That means applying techniques such as: Budget your expenditures. Cut them when necessary. Use your additional 6.5 percent of tuition (if that’s what you get) to make up for legislative cuts.

Needless to Say

Do I really need to provide cards explaining the benefits of higher-education?  I think you will have no problem finding that information on your own.  I think it is important to establish the fact that post-secondary education is enormously beneficial to individuals as compared to one's future prospect as simply a high-school graduate.  Even in a world where the value of the degree has fallen and overall student debt has increased, the value of the degree, even the Associates degree, is without question, a benefit over the long term. A major part of what I have tried to convey in this position is an acknowledgement there are real-world issues.  Governments do have other spending priorities, not everyone will be good "college material", etc.  But there must be recognition of the fact, that education pays benefits and those benefits will pay-back into economy. We just need to avoid crippling our up-and-coming generation with enormous education debt.


Covert, B. (2014); How The Government Could Make Public College Free For All Students; Thinkprogress; accessed 2/20/2015.

GAO (2014); HIGHER EDUCATION State Funding Trends and Policies on Affordability;Report to the Chairman, Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, United States Senate; Government Accountability Office; December 2014; accessed 2021/2015.

Kelchen, R. (2014); The Costs of Free; Inside Higher Ed; October 13, 2014; accessed 2/20/15.

PTA, Washington State (2014); Braun Proposes New Plan for Higher Education Costs; Washington State PTA; The Chronicle, 2015-2-16; accessed 2/24/15.;jsessionid=uHsiM7KXXkumekJTKvbNsURd.undefined

Shaw, JS. (2011); As Free as Practicable; John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy; November 17, 2011. Accessed 2/21/2015.

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