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Students Say Coping With National Debt is 'Up to Us'

Northwestern joins competition to educate peers on America’s fiscal challenges

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Ask most college students about the United States’ $18 trillion national debt, and you’re likely to get a blank stare. One group of Northwestern University undergraduates has joined a nationwide campus competition to do something about that.

The team is one of 44 from colleges throughout the country participating in “Up to Us,” a competition in which students educate peers on long-term national debt, how it could affect their economic opportunities and what they can do to raise awareness of fiscal challenges.

In addition to a $10,000 cash prize, the winning team will receive a trip to Clinton Global Initiative University 2015 and be recognized by former President Bill Clinton.

“When President Obama came to talk at our University, he told us that we had to be the ones to do something and change things,” said Nikita Ramanujam, a team member and senior in Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy. “I would hope students who heard him speak would care about what their role is going to be in tackling big issues like the national debt, because, essentially, we are going be the ones facing the repercussions, whether we want to admit it or not.”

Team members have a variety of events planned to educate peers about the debt.

On Feb. 12, Northwestern will join with teams from schools throughout the country to participate in “Two Cents Day.” That day students will gather at Norris University Center where they will find a photo booth and a graffiti wall and have an opportunity to sign a Facebook pledge committing to caring about the nation’s economic future.

The Northwestern team also will visit with a variety of student groups, residential communities and classes for short discussions tailored to particular audiences. Numbers will not be the sole focus of the discussions, but, team members stressed, the fiscal facts related to them will likely have a powerful effect on students.

“It’s pretty astonishing to see that if you are in our generation, you could be expected to possibly pay up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in net taxes towards the national debt over the course of your lifetime,” Ramamujam said.

“It used to be that Social Security for one American was paid by five people. Today, it’s three people, and it will be two people in 2030,” said Devashish Singal, another team member and a senior economics major in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “Anyone born after 1994 should expect to pay more towards Social Security than they receive back from Social Security.”

Capitalizing on Northwestern’s focus on entrepreneurship, the team also will host a Feb. 4 forum where entrepreneurs from around the country will explain how the national debt has and will continue to impact them.

“We decided that our main goal is not necessarily to win but just to raise awareness on this campus,” Ramanujam said. ”If we can walk away knowing that more students are aware of what we’re up against and are thinking about what they can do differently on a personal level, we’ll feel like we’ve been pretty successful.”

Besides Ramanujam and Singal, the Northwestern team includes Priyanka Mangtani, Rusheel Nayak and Alexander Olivo, all students in Weinberg.

The campaign, sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and Net Impact, officially ends Feb. 20. For more information on the team’s efforts, visit their Facebook page.

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