Balancing the Budget: Students as Policymakers

a group of students raise their hands to vote

A group of students raise their hand to vote on a budget issue.

In a combined class session with ARE 106, ARE 133 and ARE 201A, taught by Drs. Coit and Hendrickson, 118 students were divided into 12 groups to participate in the Principles and Priorities activity facilitated by the Concord Coalition.  This activity starts with a crash course on federal budgeting and then the students break out and work together to create a budget as they see fit. Students learn about public budgeting issues, government spending, and opportunity costs of decisions. It also gives students an experience that can provide them with the perspective to make them better aware citizens and voters. The participants included students in agricultural economics, agricultural law, agricultural policy, as well as Agricultural Institute Ambassadors, Agribusiness Club members, and others.

The students must focus on three major factors when making decisions.

  • Economics – How will the decisions affect the economy in both the short term and the long term?
  • Public Policy – Should reducing the deficit be a primary goal, regardless of the policy impacts?  Which areas of the government should receive more or less funding?  Which parts of society would be most affected?  Do your choices fit your vision for the nation’s future?
  • Politics – How will the public respond to your decisions?  Will you be re-elected?

student writing in notebookThe results ranged from increasing the federal deficit by 3.3 trillion dollars to reducing the federal deficit by $4.7 trillion.  Some groups chose to reverse tax cuts to reduce the deficit while others opted to reduce expenses.  More than half of the group leaders said they did not feel that they would be re-elected if they enacted these decisions.

Phillip Smith, National Field Director of The Concord Coalition and Marjorie Dufek, North Carolina Coordinator of The Concord Coalition facilitated the budget challenge process.  They use this same process with legislators in town hall events and at universities and schools across the country to get citizens involved in the budgeting process and to help us better understand the types of decisions our legislators make on our behalf.

Jalen Quenga, an Ornamental and Landscape Technology major shared: “I’m from Guam and I came here to give myself educational opportunities. This is real life. That’s the real federal budget we were working on. There’s nothing more important than working on these types of activities. Thank you [Phil Smith] for coming from Washington DC and working on this with us. ”

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