Graduate student and founder of The 12M Project, Joshua Watson said 12M got its name based on the statistic of students-per-year that take on student loans to finance their higher education. Watson said he intends to find solutions that keep college affordable and accessible. (Photo by Rachel Nemeh)
A new idea that could revolutionize the style of paying back student loans led ASU social and cultural pedagogy graduate student Joshua Watson and his partners to create Project 12M, a venture that connects student loans to community service.
“Ever since I came to ASU in 2009, I noticed students were taking loans,” Watson said. “Every year, 32 million students enter college, and over 12 million take out student loans — and this is just increasing each year.”
The idea behind this development is that instead of waiting to graduate to pay back loans, and instead of paying back high interests on already high amounts, students can take another route.
“While still actively enrolled, students can participate in community service or service learning to help pay back the loans,” he said.
Watson and his team worked, and continue to work, alongside many important people in the government and ASU board to make this idea a possibility. Watson has dedicated countless hours to this project, and he plans on continuing to do so.
“My goal for the rest of my time on this earth is to make education become more attainable, affordable and accessible,” he said.
The members plan to fund this project by connecting to local banks, businesses and local nonprofit organizations.
“These local businesses also benefit by receiving tax breaks for donating to a nonprofit (organization) and maintain lower risk for students defaulting on their loans,” he said. “They also get to give back to their communities.”
Watson said he and his partners are trying to turn Project 12M into a 501(c)(3), or a nonprofit organization, and will be starting at ASU for their pilot run.
“We are looking to launch the program at ASU in fall 2015,” he said. “We hope to impact over 150 students in the first academic year.”
Interdisciplinary studies senior and co-founder of Project 12M Brendan Pantilione said another interesting aspect about their project is its impact on graduation rates.
“Studies actually show that students that are engaged in their communities are far more likely to graduate,” he said.
While the project will be starting at ASU, members have hopes of going nationwide with a little more help and success.
“We already have the OK from ASU to start in the fall, but we are looking for more partners and lenders,” Pantilione said.
Social and cultural pedagogy graduate student Kara O’Neil, director of Development and Fundraising for Project 12M, met Watson in class and realized they both had a shared interest in the student debt crisis.
“If we don’t find a solution (for the student debt crisis), then we are going to run into bigger problems than one student with $18,000 in debt,” she said.
O’Neil explained that members hope this project will solve many issues for many different people.
“We are hoping to find a win-win solution for everyone,” she said. “We would like to see partnership between all entities involved with higher education and student loan debt.”
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