Previous Page An Argument 53.
The following appeared as part of an editorial in a weekly magazine.
Historically, most of this country's engineers have come from our universities. Recently, however, our university-age population has begun to shrink and decreasing enrolments in our high schools clearly show that this drop in numbers will continue throughout the remainder of the decade. Consequently, our nation will soon be facing a shortage of trained engineers. If we are to remain economically competitive in the world marketplace, then we must increase funding for education and that should be done quickly. Question
Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underline the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate in conclusion. Analysis
An editorial in a weekly news magazine warns that we must quickly increase funding for education in order to remain economically competitive in the world marketplace. The line of reasoning is that the nation will soon face a shortage of engineers because engineers have to come from universities and that our university-age population is shrinking. Moreover, decreasing enrolments in high schools clearly show that this drop in university-age students will continue throughout the decade.
The author's argument is not convincing because it is based on several questionable assumptions.
First, the author assumes that because our university-age population is shrinking, university enrollments will likewise shrink. But even if the number of university-age students is dropping, it is possible that a greater proportion of those students will enter universities. If this percentage were sufficiently large, university enrollments could still remain relatively stable.
Moreover, even if overall university enrollments did drop, one need not assume that the number of engineering students would likewise drop because decreases in overall enrollments do not necessarily result in proportional enrolment decreases in each field of study. If demand for engineers were high, then a larger percentage of university students might study to become engineers in which case engineering enrollments could increase or remain constant, even while those in other major fields of study may drop disproportionately.
Another questionable assumption is that economic success in the world marketplace depends on the number of engineers produced by our universities. This assumption is simplistic. Professionals in other fields - such as agriculture, banking and business - may contribute equally to our global success. The author does not explain why the predicted shortage of engineers is more critical than shortages in other fields that might result from shrinking university enrollments.
Nor does the author demonstrate that providing more funds for education will correct the predicted shortage of engineers. Even if all of the previous assumptions are accepted, no connection between increased funding and the desired enrolment increase in engineering has been established.
In conclusion, the author fails to make a convincing case for increased funding for education. Before we accept the conclusion, the author must provide evidence that we face a critical shortage of engineers and that increased funding will have direct bearing on correcting this shortage. As it stands, both these claims rest on unwarranted assumptions.