As I’ve posted several times before, we use qualitative design research to better empathize with people involved in education. Student debt plays a big role in the student experience, and so we’ve recently concluded a research program with students, focused on financial aid, debt, and money management.
We talked to a small sample of students enrolled in (or having graduated from) 2 year, 4 year, and graduate programs in the US. We had them show us their financial aid paperwork and walk us through their loan packages; we also leveraged participatory design to explore their emotions surrounding the debt process. Participatory design is a form of design research that provides prompts (worksheets and activities) in order to tap into the latent creativity in our participants. For example, we asked students to map their debt journey over time, so we can better view the key decision and emotional breakpoints in their unique experience. By observing students as they make things, we can realize how students are feeling, and can gain insight into their thoughts and problem solving processes.
Not surprisingly, we discovered that the student debt process in the US is very, very broken. But surprising to me was the extent to which students fear the process. One student we spoke to literally did not open any of the envelopes of debt paperwork that she received because she was scared of what might be inside. This type of emotional breakdown describes a clear opportunity for new products, services, support structures and policies to help students in their academic journey.