Sunday, February 22, 2015

PF Mar 2015 - Free Community College Tuition - Introduction

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

A Step Back

Before we dig into the definitions and possible Pro and Con positions for this topic, let's step back and take a general look at the resolution.  It specifies, "in the United States" so we know we will be advocating for a condition which only applies to the United States; so I guess we can limit the scope to within the fifty states.  Of course, that does not mean we cannot talk about the experience or examples of other nations.  This always seems to be difficult.  The resolution applies to some specific locale; a team discusses the experience of another locale and the opposition raises a firm observation we should only be looking to the resolution locale so the judge should reject the other team's example.  We should also note, the guarantor (the entity responsible for providing the guarantee) is not specified.  So, I suppose the tendency is to assume a government is the intended actor, perhaps the federal government, but maybe a reasonable case can be made for other potential actors so for now we keep an open mind that such a guarantor may be uncovered.  Also, note the benefactors of this proposal are "students" which is an unqualified noun so we can assume any one eligible to enroll in college is a potential benefactor; so high-school graduates, employed or unemployed adults, and unregistered aliens or undocumented immigrants.

Stepping Further Back

Let's step back even further; two years to be exact. The January, 2012 PF resolution was Resolved: The costs of a college education outweigh the benefits. I reference these former articles at Everyday Debate here, here and here because one would be naive to think this resolution would not require justification for meeting the expense of guaranteeing free tuition for two years.  We discovered in January 2012 that many would argue that even racking up substantial student-load debt returned benefits which helped individuals in the long run by enabling higher-paying jobs. But we also learned the push to put students into college potentially devalues the academic degree and at worse straps young adults with insurmountable debt without guaranteeing any kind of career advantages. After all, if the guy flipping burgers has the same bachelor of arts degree as you, what is the real-world marketable value of your degree?  Potentially, by promoting education benefits of community colleges, some of the devaluing of four-year degrees may be alleviated because it provides an incentive for students to take an alternate route to improving career prospects while continuing to preserve the incentive for those who have the means to seek benefits from four-year educational institutions.


"In the United States"
I think we can forego any special definitions or meanings.  As 14-18 year-old high school debaters I assume you know what and where the United States is and there is no need to quibble over any special meanings.  For sure, we are talking about somewhere within the jurisdiction of the United States Federal government and we are not necessarily restricted from the territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and so forth.  Also, since the guarantor is unspecified in this resolution, we can assume the USFG which means the guarantee would likely be applicable to any locale within the U.S. simultaneously.  It seems highly unlikely debaters will engage in topicality gamesmanship and limit the discussion to a single community which happens to be within the boundaries of the U.S.  However, at present there are a limited number of so-called community colleges within the U.S. so at minimum we can assume the resolution is applicable to those places within the U.S. which are served by community colleges.

A student is one who studies and formal definitions such as Merriam Webster's prefer to qualify the meaning to one who studies at a school. For the purposes of this resolution we can just assume a student to be anyone accepted for admission into a community college (or technical college).

I would not expect any challenges or discussions of this word. Presently, I see no point in taking any special position with respect to the word should.  Should does suggest a kind of obligation but that obligation may arise from moral or legal requirements or simply from a certain expediency coming from sound economics or common sense, purpose or general will.

"be guaranteed"
When one is guaranteed, according to the dictionary meanings, one is assured a condition will be fulfilled.  Now, usually there is someone, or some entity who assumes the role of guarantor, that is, the one who sees to it the condition is fulfilled exactly as promised. In this resolution, the guarantor is not specified.  Of course when a condition is "guaranteed" (assured) by a guarantor, there is usually, but not always some requirements to be met before one may be the beneficiary of the guarantee. In this resolution, the recipient of the guarantee is obligated to be a student. To be sure, legally the terminology and roles required to execute a guarantee are much more complex and often involve various loopholes or escape clauses but in general terms we can think of a guarantee as a type of contract.  We should not need to dive into the legal machinations of contract law when debating this resolution.

"two years"
Technically, two calendar years denotes a number of calendar days or twenty-four calendar months.  In the context of this resolution dealing with colleges, the "year" is based upon a calendar determined by the college itself which defines distinct periods of time which comprise a "normal" academic year.  It does not necessarily mean twenty-four calendar months, it means two normal school years each of which is a fraction of a full, twelve month calendar year.  I hate to be so specific about the meaning but I have seen all kinds of strange manipulations of meanings in Public Forum debate so I just want to be clear.  We are talking about two academic years, which are periods of time established by the relevant schools.

"free tuition"
In general terms, tuition is the fee charged for instruction in colleges, technical schools and universities. In practical terms, tuition is complex in that it varies by institution, covers a broad and often unspecified range of services or facilities and often changes according to the student's particular status.  For example, tuition for full-time students may be different than tuition for part-time students or residents of a locale versus non-residents.  Of course this does legitimately add a certain potential for conflict within the debate.  The resolution very unspecifically claims students should be guaranteed free tuition but does not say anything about whether those students should be full-time or part-time, resident or non-resident, in good academic standing or failing as well as a number of other criteria which affect the appraisal of any benefits gained from upholding the resolution. We know free means without cost, but as we suggested in the definition of "guaranteed", the free tuition is contingent upon the student fulfilling some unspecified obligation.  The obligation may be as general as being a recognized "student" or as complex as one who maintains a certain attendance requirement, course requirements or grade-point average.

"community college"
"technical school"
It is not so easy to pin down a specific definition for a "community college".  Generally speaking they are a place for post-secondary education, serving a specific locale, and aimed toward providing certifications or degrees acceptable to certain industries or skilled occupations which require more than a traditional high school education but not necessarily a bachelors degree.  Unlike a traditional college or university, the education is typically directed to a specific skill-set rather than a general-purpose advanced education and so the time required for completion can be two academic years or less if the student attends "full time".  For the purposes of this resolution, "technical school" is more or less interchangeable with the term "community college" though the skill-set aims may be directed to occupations closely associated with engineering, science and technology.  Many times a community college can serve as a stepping stone to traditional four-year degree.  According to this source...

Community college is the most common type of two-year college. These colleges offer many types of educational programs, including those that lead to associate degrees and certificates. Certificates and some types of associate degrees focus on career readiness. Other types of associate degrees are good preparation for study at a four-year college where graduates can earn a bachelor’s degree.

In the United States, there is a group known collectively as the American Association of Community Colleges. Which provides general information about community colleges within the U.S. including useful demographic information.

The Obama Initiative

This resolution provides an opportunity to debate a proposal presented by President Barack Obama during during the state of the union speech at a Tennessee community college in January of 2015.

Davis & Lewin 2015:
President Obama said Thursday that he would propose a government program to make community college tuition-free for millions of students, an ambitious plan that would expand educational opportunities across the United States. The initiative, which the president plans to officially announce Friday at a Tennessee community college, aims to transform publicly financed higher education in an effort to address growing income inequality. The plan would be funded by the federal government and participating states, but White House officials declined to discuss how much it would cost or how it would be financed.

While we cannot necessarily assume, the debate should be limited specifically to Obama's proposal the USFG would provide the funding, we can be sure many judges will have heard of this proposal and may have already formed an opinion. If you choose to debate the correct side of that opinion your job may be a little easier than the opponents'.  There are many avenues available for the proponents and opponents of this resolution.  For the Pro, we can look at devaluation of four-year degrees and the ever-increasing cost of higher education.  On the Con we can look at tax burden of providing such a benefit against the backdrop of already excessive national debt and troubling issues surrounding the fair availability of the benefit to citizens and non-citizens.

Click here for the Con position

Davis, JH, Lewin, T; (2015); Obama Plan Would Help Many Go to Community College Free; New York Times; January 9, 2015; accessed online 2/16/2015.