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Payback


10/26/17



 eb-based games have never interested me. It is probably a generational thing. Nevertheless, one recently reviewed in the New York Times caught my attention because it has a real-world application. Payback is an interactive simulation that allows would-be college students to calculate the return on investment on college costs, academic programs, extracurricular activities and other critical factors that result in completing college and graduating with a job that will enable them to repay student loan debt.

While economists are divided on the question of whether or not student loan debt is a drag on the U.S. economy, all acknowledge that the total has quadrupled since 2004. What is truly disturbing, however, is the toll it is taking on the lives of young people saddled with repayments that represent an increasingly larger percentage of their income, thereby hampering their plans for marriage, housing and families. Those who regularly deal with bad debt collection can tell heartbreaking stories of lives in jeopardy because of ill-informed decisions taken at the outset of college loan borrowing.
When, as a college president, I would greet audiences of new students and their parents, I always asked the students present three questions. “How many of you have purchased a computer with your own money?” Quite a number of hands would go up. Then, “How many of you have bought a car entirely with your own money?” Just a few hands would be raised. Finally, “How many of you have bought a house with your own money?” No hands would be seen. “So,” I would say, “in the case of the computer or the car you bought, I’ll assume you shopped carefully to get the best value for your investment. Are you doing that now, as you look at our college? Because you are about to spend the equivalent of buying a house.” The parents in the audience would get the message immediately.
What does it mean to get the best value for one’s investment in a college?  Might it be finding the balance between a college education and a college experience?  Yes; the amenities of a college campus — halls of residence, dining center, fitness facilities, ubiquitous technology and great social life — are important. But what about the student/teacher ratio, availability of internships, the quality of labs and teaching/learning spaces, satisfaction of graduates and networking for jobs after graduation? To check these out requires more than a one-hour campus tour. The stakes are high; the choices today greater than ever, and the need for wise investment critical.
Stephen Reno is executive director of Leadership New Hampshire and former chancellor of the University System of New Hampshire. His email is stepreno@gmail.com. 





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