America’s financial future is clouded. Federal debt and national deficits are rising at an alarming rate. Prior to 1980, our national debt remained relatively small, less than a trillion dollars over a period of 40 years. As of June 2011, the US is approximately $14 trillion in debt. The rising cost of entitlement programs, particularly Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, threaten to take so much of the available funding as to eliminate all other services and operations of the national government; Medicare already spends more than it takes in. At the same time, the US spends more on defense than all other nations on earth combined. In the face of these increased costs in entitlement programs and military spending, the American public is resistant to raising taxes. Our dismal national fiscal circumstances could permanently weaken America’s ability to respond to the needs of a new generation and could severely harm our nation’s future.
The goal of the America’s Future initiative is to educate AASCU students about our looming national debt and deficits, while exploring ways in which they can interact with policy makers to end this era of financial irresponsibility. Faculty members assist students in exploring this complex issue as well as developing potential solutions and ways of addressing the risks posed by both national debt and deficit.
Both curricular and co-curricular programs are underway on the eight America’s Future campuses, including personal debt awareness events, art competitions, essay contests, and the use of Public Agenda’s Facing Up to the Nation’s Finances curricular materials.In 2010, the America’s Future Scholars featured a series of articles describing their work in a “Teacher Symposium” in PS: Political Science and Politics entitled “America’s Financial Future, Civic Engagement, and the Public University.” The issue is available for purchase here. In addition to the “Teacher Symposium,” Andrew Yarrow and Cecilia M. Orphan created a toolkit for hosting intergenerational dialogues about the many issues related to the national debt and deficits—including Social Security, health-care spending, defense and domestic spending, tax and revenue policies, and debt service. “America’s Future: A Guide to Intergenerational Dialogues about the National Debt and Deficit” is a resource for planning and implementing such an event on campuses.