Giving Students a Choice

Context

Over 44 million Americans have student loans. Over 5 million are delinquent on their student loans, and in 2016, the average graduate held over $37,000 in loans.

Challenge

The American student loan system consists of a scattered network of public and private resources. Over 40 million Americans rely on this flawed structure to finance at least some portion of their college educations.

Methods

Secondary Research
Ethnographic Interviews
Experience Mapping
Heuristic Analysis
User-Testing

Student loan reform proposals typically focus on repayment solutions, including loan forgiveness, variable rate repayment, or industry participation. These narrow solutions fail to see the system as a whole, and fail to account for what the users (students) of the system would change. We decided to ask students how they would reimagine the student loan system from the ground up. Nineteen students spent a semester researching the student loan system: mapping their own experiences; interviewing current, past, and future students; talking to parents and counselors; and auditing existing resources and data that might be helpful to students as they consider how to finance higher education.
Primary Objectives

1. Consolidated Decision-Making Tools
2. Integrated Educational Resources
3. Lifetime Personalized Dashboard

1. Consolidating Decision-Making Tools

Students found that decision-making resources were scattered throughout the internet. Some proved valuable while many were either hard to find or cumbersome to use. By connecting or integrating the most beneficial of these tools into studentloans.gov, the site could become a centralized hub for educational, career, and loan planning that would better equip students to make important decisions.

Existing
U.S. Student Loan System

Primary sources of information regarding schools, degrees, and careers come from the media, schools, lenders and some non-profits. Studentloans.gov facilitates the loan process, although its resources did little to aid students in their decision-making process.

Ideal
U.S. Student Loan System

In an ideal system, studentloans.gov integrates public and private tools to become a singular resource for students when considering higher education options.

2. Integrating Educational Resources

An online curriculum integrated into high school classrooms could familiarize students to the studentloans.gov system and help them consider important questions about post-secondary education, schools, career direction, and student loans — potentially resulting in more informed students.

3. Lifetime Personalized Dashboard

An personalized dashboard that guides students through decision-making curriculum to repayment of their loans could help orient students to studentloans.gov and deliver more timely educational content or tools throughout the life of a student.

Process

Student designers and researchers began with secondary and contextual research to understand the human, technological, and political landscape. From contextual research with end users, the students began to map current stages, touchpoints, thoughts, and interactions.

An experience map began to identify primary areas for intervention based on user needs.

A heuristic review of the existing studentloans.gov website also helped prioritize design directions and led to wireframing, user testing, and prototyping.

The future


The redesign of studentloans.gov illustrates the possibilities for government resources to be delivered in a way that is user-centered. The concepts of the redesign are both systemic and digital in nature and would require extensive investment in technology, content, and policy efforts. However, what the team set out to do is illustrate the first step in creating a more desirable future where the answer to complex problems aren’t primarily informed by special interests, and fiscal or political short-sightedness; but rather the public—those most impacted by the system.

To take this approach user-first approach may seem impractical and unattainable in complex human/political systems. However, the failure to articulate the preferred solutions (no matter how far away they are) leads to directionless development of public resources that are more informed by technology, special interests, or political talking points than actually serving the public.