FEDERAL STUDENT FINANCIAL AID TOPIC PAPER
Doyle Srader, Arizona State University
Robert Kraig of the University of Wisconsin-Madison
In this section, we survey some of the potential affirmative and negative argument areas. Obviously, this projection is based on a very preliminary exploration of the literature, and is difficult to predict with any confidence in the absence of a topic wording. Still, these are the sub issues we've uncovered that have potential application as debate arguments.
The first set of possible affirmatives deal with the nuts and bolts of how financial aid is disbursed. In last year's discussion of the tax reform topic, many argued that debates over which model of cash flow is most appropriate would bore students and drive participants away from the activity. Others replied that they found such issues quite interesting, that the high school health care topic from 1993-94 had been their favorite. Srader (1997) argued that the debate community had too long neglected economic policy, and had emphasized foreign policy and law to the exclusion of students who chose to study economics and enjoyed discussing such issues. The Federal Financial Aid proposal provides many opportunities to discuss such issues, without being limited exclusively to them. To begin with, much controversy, and many proposed reforms, address the problem of how"need"is calculated, what sources of income and included, etc. A large cluster of possible cases deal with what forms of disbursement should be used, including direct loans vs. bank loans, loans versus grants, what percentage of federal work-study, terms of repayment, and the like. Surprisingly, inflation in tuition costs outstrips inflation in medical costs, and there are a variety of proposed solutions being pushed from right-wing think tanks. Finally, in line with the ongoing project to reinvent government, there are proposals to de bureaucratize FFA. Some would like to farm it out to a Mutual Benefits Corporation (MBC), on the model of Visa and Master Card. Another, which actually is included in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act which passed this year, turns part of the Department of Education into a Performance Based Organization (PBO), which means it has a CEO who, in return to loosened rules and higher pay, is only rehired if the organization performs well. Similar to this year's EEOC backlog debates, there exists a huge backlog in the processing of financial aid applications, as many of your students are probably keenly aware of. Finally, much controversy and much brainpower is devoted to the issue of how to police fraud in disbursement of FFA.
Beyond a core of method cases, there are financial aid controversies that are more limited and issue-tied. Many cases carry on the debates about race and gender fairness that have begun this year, but carry the discussion of those issues into another setting beyond the workplace, and one that was discussed as a possible addition to this year's civil rights topic. Scholarships for women and/or minorities are one of the few recruitment measures available to colleges and universities as Affirmative Action in admissions falls prey to the Hopwood precedent. Some FFA programs are structured in ways that create fairness problems: Perkins Loans, Work Study, and the Student Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG) are doled out by campus, based on how long they have existed and other arcane factors, rather than by student. Newer institutions with more disadvantaged students are thus often cheated.
Other proposals either give financial aid to particular groups or condition financial aid on particular practices. Substantial controversy exists about grants for prison education, which the Republicans recently succeeded in abolishing. Similarly, conservative commentators call for welfare recipients to be forced out of school and into service sector jobs. Students may now lose their financial aid for being convicted of drug offenses at certain levels of severity. The question of how much and what kind of financial aid should be available for special needs students, including remedial and physically challenged students, has produced its own body of literature. Some have argued that National Science Foundation grants to graduate students are really nothing more than a form of financial aid, and should be governed by many of the same safeguards. Finally, as fans of Northern Exposure are aware, the federal government encourages students to work off their loans by providing service in needy areas, such as by practicing medicine in rural areas, teaching classes in urban areas, etc. One outlier area of controversy is the eligibility of particular colleges and universities to participate in federal financial aid programs. Some such eligibility conditions surround financial management or accreditation, but other conditions are also imposed: recently, Congress passed a law requiring schools to allow military recruiters on campus as such a condition of eligibility.
The crop of negative arguments isn't meager. The logical first set is the cluster of economic disadvantages. Some examples: --Credit Crunch/Credit Surplus DAs. We are talking about $40 Billion per annum now in loans. Any major change, such as to full funding of Pell Grant, will have an effect on the U.S. banking system, interest rates, etc. --Global Economy DAs. One example might be skills Surplus. Marcroecomic implications of having too many well trained people in the economy. - Economic Productivity DA. It can be argued that people learn most of useful skills in the workplace. The more affordable college is, the longer people will unneccesarily stay in school, putting a drag on the economy.
It's one hundred percent inevitable that the same old crop of political disads will put in an appearance, but the FFA topic area could also produce disads about the political climate in the country, such as: --
Political Radicalism DA. If more go to college, especially from underrepresented groups, get unrest such as is common among Asian college students, social instability. --
PC DAs. Colleges are training grounds for authoritarian liberalism. It is thus a bad thing if more go to college. Furthermore, most students now have to work in college. If it were made free, they would have more time for indoctrination. Similar to the Political radicalism DA. --
Evil research DAs. These aren't really about political climate, but they're inserted here because they in some way parallel the PC DAs. It can be argued that a good deal of university research is actually tuition driven. Increased aid thus could lead to more dangerous research on biotech, military stuff, etc --
Foreign students. Extremely good link cards exist which say that colleges recruit heavily from overseas to make up for students going to school at reduced price, because students from other countries often have very wealthy parents who are willing to pay the full sticker price. Changes in financial aid in either direction could change the quotient of foreign students, which could be good or bad.
And the varieties of alternate solvency mechanism counterplans will make for a really tight debate on the details of proposals. This is a topic about efficiency and affordability, much like the health care topic. The debates about the merits of various cost containment systems on that topic became very deep and very detailed, and taught the participants a lot about how actual decisionmaking happens outside the walls of the academy. More radical critiques of institutionalized education, as well as conceptualizing wealth, will also be available as negative ground.
Resolved, that the United States Federal Government should substantially increase its financial student aid for higher education.
Resolved, that the United States Federal Government should substantially decrease its financial student aid for higher education.
Resolved, that the United States Federal Government should substantially change its financial aid programs for students in higher education in one or more of the following areas: determination of need, institution eligibility, grant/loan mix.
Resolved, that the United States Federal Government should amend the Higher Education Act to substantially expand admission of students to colleges and/or universities.
Resolved, that the United States Federal Government should amend the Higher Education Act to substantially strengthen the regulation of disbursement of financial student aid for higher education.
Resolved, that expanding access to higher education ought to be a higher goal for United States federal financial student aid programs than optimal fiscal management.
A few comments."Financial student aid"was originally"financial aid to students,"but as noted above, many forms of aid are given directly to institutions rather than directly to students."Student aid"is used frequently enough that contextual topicality cards should be relatively simple to find, but clears up somewhat the distinction between aid for students and federal money for such things as research projects. Second, one of the things we should discuss as a community during the topic framing season is the result of the"amend a specific law"topic template. The proposals above include examples of the previously more popular"substantially increase/decrease/change"proposals as well as"amend law"wordings. Finally, the last topic wording is an acknowledgment that the value topic is not dead, that its adherents continue to believe it has a place in the activity. The inclusion of the wording is a springboard for facilitating discussion of that issue.
Conclusion: reasons the topic should be adopted
First of all, this is a campus-friendly topic. As debaters and coaches read about the topic literature, they may learn how to streamline their own quest for financial aid or to avoid pitfalls. They also generate knowledge that's of interest to university administrators, with potential for improved on-campus relations as well as public debates that could attract everyone in the campus community from deans to first-years.
Second, this is a topic that centers controversy on addressing problems of insufficient wealth. To repeat an earlier argument, the debate on race and gender is nowhere near complete, but will not be completed in our lifetime. What's difficult to deny is that the ground has been broken and the dialogue has been begun, even if each issue has not yet received sufficient attention. But income discrimination is still an invisible form of oppression. A prominent shared characteristic of affirmatives will be redistribution both of wealth and of the means of accruing wealth. Negatives will be enticed to question how"wealth"is understood.
Third, it has all the characteristics of a good debate topic: controversial, extremely current, widely written about in the literature with both proponents and detractors deploying an array of arguments. It's also a good relief from recent topics. While this year's topic has some economic strands to it, it's similar to the past dozen topics in that they have economic strands, but are fundamentally about law, or foreign policy, or science, or some other field of inquiry. A topic truly centered on economics has not been adopted in several generations of students. For the sake of balance, and to cater, for once, to the interests of those who are drawn to economic controversy, it's time to adopt one.
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