Oct 03, 2017

NGPF and McKinney Launch PAYBACK, A Game To Teach College-Bound Students How to Manage Student Debt

Take the Payback Challenge to learn how much college majors pay and how to minimize that pesky student debt. 


One of the frustrating insights from our recent research report, Who Has Access To Financial Education In America Today? was how infrequently "paying for college" (or some variant) was covered in a personal finance course. Yes, while scouring 11,000 websites and 18,000 course descriptions, college was far down the list of terms that were most frequently cited. Yet, when you consider both the gravity of the college decision (and it's long-term impact) as well as the timeliness of such information (J-I-T!), it seems like more time should be spent on the topic. That is why I was so excited to partner with McKinney to create this immersive experience that we call PAYBACK. With just a limited amount of time (less than an hour including a class discussion), you can hone your students' decision-making skills and hit the key learning objectives for this all important topic.  

I should just stop right here and let you play the game but I wanted to leave you with some thoughts about how to use this in the classroom (which based on our data, thousands of you have already done!). We have enjoyed working with first gen high school students in East Palo Alto (Eastside Prep and East Palo Alto Academy) and Mountain View High Schools and the incoming freshmen class at Paul Smith's College in the Adirondacks (NY). Here is what we have observed:

Give as little instruction as possible to introduce the game: I typically tell students:

  1. Complete this worksheet as they play the game,
  2. Play the game straight and answer the questions honestly (and not what they expect the teacher wants them to)
  3. Feel free to talk to other students as they play the game (there is usually a steady buzz as students compare their answers); it is always great to hear students discuss the pros/cons of various living arrangements or what the right meal plan is. 
  4. You have 20 minutes to play the game (so you can play multiple times) and 10 minutes to complete the worksheet. Remaining time will be spend on class discussion.

Discussion: I have found these questions to be helpful conversation starters:

  • Which ONE decision had the largest impact on your student debt levels at the end of the game?
  • Which decision did you find to be most difficult for you to answer?
  • Which decision surprised you in terms of its impact on your focus, happiness or connections? Why?
  • What three insights did you gain from playing this game that you didn't know before you came to class today? 


Still want to know more about PAYBACK?


Here's our product announcement:


Paying for College
Product Release, October 2017

NGPF partnered with McKinney (creators of the popular game, Spent) to create PAYBACK, a simulation that will challenge your students as they make dozens of decisions with a goal of graduating from college. 

Here's what teachers are saying about the game:

  • "It was an amazing game. All of my students were so highly engaged that it was time to go to lunch and none of them wanted to leave."
  • "I have never seen students so excited to do this work! They felt that this work is related to their need to learn more about what to do to succeed in life."
  • "The students verbally discussed among themselves the decisions they were making and why. It was awesome to watch!"
Shopping for your freshman dorm has never been so fun:
Be sure to leave time for a rich classroom discussion. Check out the PAYBACK reflection worksheet for your students to complete while they play. 
Take the PAYBACK Challenge:
  1. Play PAYBACK with your students (be ready to get nostalgic about your college years!)
  2. Be a #FinHero and tweet your favorite student comment(s) using the hashtag #timeforpayback. We will be highlighting our favorites in an NGPF Blog post. 
Made it this far?

Be sure to read the recent NY Times column to hear the back story behind PAYBACK. 


About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.

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