National debt: It’s ‘Up to Us’


There were several issues that came up in the 2016 presidential election that directly affect college students, such as the price of tuition, immigration and reproductive rights. However, three UT students want to bring attention to a less obvious issue – the national debt, which at the time of print was $21 trillion, according to the Bureau of Fiscal Service’s listing. These students say the debt could have a negative effect on this generation of college students if it continues to grow.

Rajul Mehta and Ismail Mohammedali, both senior triple majors in finance, accounting and cybersecurity, along with Jyotsna Gautam, a graduate accounting student, and John Vasquez, a senior finance major are a team in a competition called Up to Us, where students from different schools compete to see how well they can educate their student body about the national debt.

Few UT students know about the issue, said Gautam.

“When we explained what we were doing and what the millennials right now are about to face because of national debt, [the students] were amazed and shocked,” Gautam said.

As part of the competition, the team has been asking students to sign a pledge saying that their generation has a role to play in creating a strong economic future for the U.S. The pledge gets sent to each signer’s legislators based on his or her zip code.

The team is judged on the events they hold, how many pledges they get and how many partnerships with other organizations the team forms. The winning team gets $10,000 and an invitation to a summit in Washington, D.C. hosted by the Clinton Foundation and the Peter G. Peterson Foundations which started Up to Us. The top 20 teams get to send one member to the summit.

Mehta said that if the U.S. continues growing its debt and the interest it owes at the current rate, the government won’t have enough money to pay it off. To get the funds, the government could take money out of healthcare and schools, because those are discretionary spending categories. It also might have to raise taxes.

Combined with the aging population, the debt could cause social security funds to be depleted by 2034, predicts the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

“Who will be paying for it?” Mehta said. “It’s going to be us because we’ll be the workforce at that time.”

The national debt has both international and domestic owners. Domestic owners include people who own treasury securities like bonds, and government institutions like the federal reserve and the social security system, who altogether own roughly two-thirds of the national debt. According to Forbes, foreign governments own the rest of the debt.

The debt differs from the deficit which is the difference between the amount the government has spent and its revenue. If the government runs at a deficit, which it has every year since 1970, it has to take on debt.

Mehta said that the recent federal tax bill which gives tax breaks to the wealthy exacerbates the debt problem, although she stressed that Up to Us and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation are nonpartisan.

To pay off its debt, Mehta would like to see the government pass tax reforms and decrease spending on defense and on other categories.

Mohammedali said that the U.S. should offer treasury bonds at a sustainable rate, instead of offering more than it can expect to pay back.

“It’s never a good idea to keep taking on debt and think that [everything] will be fine,” Mohammedali said.

To raise awareness at UT, the team hosted a debate about the debt between the College Democrats and the College Republicans on March 19. The team also has been tabling by themselves and with Roots and Shoots.

The competition ends on March 23, and the students find out the results in April.

Mehta is currently trying establish Up to Us as a permanent organization on campus, and hopes that by Fall 2018 it will be operating.

For more information on how to get involved, go to

You can reach Arden Igleheart at

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