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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

US debt solution is ‘Up to Us,’ students say

Understanding the scale of national debt is top concern

news@dailylobo.com
@StephChoover

College students need to become more informed about the nuances of the national debt situation, UNM students participating in a national project say.

A team of UNM students has joined the “Up to Us” competition, a nationwide project in which students from participating universities raise awareness and educate about the country’s debt.

“We’re not necessarily looking for a solution to solve the debt; it’s a non-partisan awareness campaign,” said Victoria Pryor, the team leader and director of community involvement for the group.

“The more people that we can get informed to know about what the federal debt is, to know how it affects us, the easier it’s going to be when the millennial generation reaches the point where they’re in the government and in the workforce.”

After an extensive application process, UNM was selected in early October as one of 25 universities around the United States to join the competition. “Up to Us” is a partnership between the Clinton Global Initiative University, Net Impact and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

Pryor said an important component of the campaign is giving students a way to understand the size of national debt.

“16 trillion is a huge number, and most people can’t conceptualize that,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of tangible things just laying around that are 16 trillion, so that will be a large part of what we’re doing to teach the students.”

The teams participate in weekly ‘webinars’ (web seminars) with national coordinators and constantly evaluate where they are in the campaign planning. UNM’s campaign will kick off next January and will continue for five weeks toward the end of February.

UNM’s campaign team is made up of five core members from different backgrounds and varied interests. Four of them are part of the International Business Students Global, a group interested in the global political economy. Three of them are also members of the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico.

Earl Shank, director of campus and facility outreach and the deputy project leader of UNM’s “Up to Us” campaign, said the topic of national debt is especially important to UNM students due to the uncertain future of the Lottery Scholarship in New Mexico.

“Obviously the state of New Mexico is struggling with figuring out the solvency of the Lottery Scholarship,” he said. “This huge institution that is the nation … has this amount of money looming over their heads, and students have — maybe down the road, depending what happens with this lottery scholarship — the same thing. So a big component, I think, is us relating that back.”

Shank and Pryor, both business and economics majors, were the first to get started on the campaign.

Pryor said the team is in the planning phases of the campaign. Campaigns will be measured by five different criteria, including major events, civic engagement, public visibility, a video component and Facebook activity, she said.

“Since this is a competition, we really want to get everyone behind the idea of helping UNM get this,” Pryor said. “It’d be awesome for our school.”

Soon, the team will start an application process to find 20 to 30 volunteers to be campus ambassadors and to help organize events. Volunteers can come from any major, as long as they are interested in the campaign.

The winning team will receive a $10,000 prize and be recognized by former U.S. President Bill Clinton at Clinton Global Initiative University 2014.

The group’s faculty adviser, Michael Montoya, an assistant professor in the Anderson School of Management, said he thinks the competition is beneficial for the whole country, because there is a distinct lack of dialogue about the national debt amongst college students, who will soon be leading the nation.

“If college students aren’t paying attention to it, then the people who are leading that discussion for future generations won’t have the kind of leadership needed to address this very complicated issue,” he said. “And let’s just look at it from practical terms: students who have college debt are going to be participating in this discussion in very, very real terms.”

Team member Rachel Williams, who is also an ASUNM senator, said that because the campaign is a competition, team members are keeping mum about the specifics of their plan. But she said they will extend their campaign’s scope of reach beyond UNM.

“We really are focusing on one particular thing that will engage a lot of New Mexicans,” she said. “It’s going to be something big, and people are going to be really excited about it. So right now, we’re just trying to figure out how we can get it to work.”