[eDebate] participation numbers--another consideration

helwich at macalester.edu helwich
Thu Jul 19 09:27:56 CDT 2007

Korcok is right that attempting to determine causation is largely futile. An honest researcher will tell you that even the most sophisticated regression analysis offers only limited value in describing the relationships within a system, and is even more limited as a predictive tool. Throw humans into the mix, and everything falls apart. I still think, though, that it is worthwhile to argue about how parameters structure systems, and vice versa--just need a good arg ;)

I think that a strong case can be made that the structure of the NDT itself has contributed to the decline in program numbers over the last decade. A good many programs define "success" as qualifying for the NDT, clearing at the NDT, and/or receiving a pre-bid. I posit that the actual number, and certainly the ratio, of programs who define their success in that fashion has grown since the topic merger. Only 78 teams qualify from perhaps 40 schools in a given year. Only 25-30 clear. Only 16 receive a pre-bids. Those pre-bids are determined by performance at 10 or so tournaments a year, which are not evenly distributed on a geographic basis.

Resources influence who _those_ teams/squads are. There are obviously Horatio Alger stories of NDT success, but even a cursory analysis of short-, medium-, and long-term success at the NDT shows that there is a strong correlation between resources (coaching numbers/skill, scholarships, travel budgets, etc) and NDT qualification and outround success. Everyone with some familiarity with the NDT, including many high school debaters, recognize this. 

How many programs can reasonably expect to "succeed" given the NDT's size and structure? A better statistician (Neil? Gary?) can probably give you a better answer, but my guess is that the number is somewhere between 40 and 60. If you are a student, or a program director, or an administrator, I posit that an important factor in deciding whether to pursue NDT debate is whether you think you have the resources (broadly defined) to join the group of successful NDT programs/debaters. If you do not, and there are alternatives (APDA, NEDA, NFA-LD, NPDA, NPTE, Worlds Style, IEs, video games), why play the NDT game?

I honestly think that continued program decline is inevitable unless either the structure of the NDT is changed, or more programs who do 'policy debate' define success in ways that do not depend on winning at the NDT game. And don't get me wrong--many programs define success differently now--I would name names, but want to avoid offending someone by not including them on the "cool kid" list, so let's just say that WVU is a good model and leave it at that ;)

If we want a bigger community, we need to either change the NDT itself or provide more venues through which programs can "succeed," however they define it. I am skeptical that tweaking topic stylings will accomplish that, but it may be worth trying.


PREEMPT: Please don't read this as an endorsement of a particular set of program goals--I am not saying that it is wrong (or right) to want to succeed at the NDT, or to define success differently.

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