Free financial literacy learning tools have multiplied in recent years. But few have the purity of purpose that parents and teachers will find in Payback, a game that helps families sort through the costs of college.
Payback is the creation of NextGen Personal Finance, a nonprofit dedicated to helping personal finance teachers land their message, and McKinney, the brains behind another acclaimed financial literacy game, Spent. NextGen is also a sponsor of Right About Money.
NextGen founder Tim Ranzetta is a former student loan consultant who believes he discovered a massive hole in the educational system: even in financial literacy courses, almost no one talks to high school students about the true cost of college and the trade-offs that help determine when loans make sense.
“That is why I was so excited to partner with McKinney to create this immersive experience,” Ranzetta writes in his blog. “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 important topic.”
Payback is getting stellar reviews. Brian Page, a personal finance teacher and Right About Money contributor, likes the game’s emphasis on the heavy cost of college loans for students that ultimately fall short of earning a degree. The New York Timeshighlighted the game in a recent column.
In his blog, Ranzetta advises teachers to give as little instruction as possible and just tell students:
—Play the game straight and answer the questions honestly, not how they might expect their teacher would want.
—Talk to other students and compare thoughts. (There is usually a steady buzz in the classroom and it is instructive for teachers to hear students discuss variables like living arrangements and meal plans.
Then promote classroom discussion around these questions:
—What 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?
—Which decision surprised you in terms of its impact on your focus, happiness or connections?
—What three insights did you gain from playing this game?
Nothing drives home a lesson like a well-designed interactive game. Give this one a try—at home or in school.