Date of Submission

Spring 2015

Academic Programs and Concentrations

Psychology; Economics

Project Advisor 1

Kristin Lane

Project Advisor 2

Dimitri Papadimitriou

Abstract/Artist's Statement

As student loans are increasingly utilized to invest in higher education, it is important to consider how students perceive and understand their loan commitments. Study 1 surveyed a sample of 147 Bard students on their attitudes towards debt and how much they knew about their loan commitments. Over half of the students sampled could not report how much they currently owed in student loans (N=76, 51.4%), 23.8% (N=35) could not identify the types of loans they held, 25.2% of participants could not provide an estimate of how much debt they expect to graduate with within a range of $5,000- $10,000, and the strongest predictor of debt ignorance was whether parents completely managed the financial aid process. Parents and students alike report the financial aid process to be extremely confusing and overwhelming, and the present study suggests an intervention to support financial aid decision-making. Study 2 primed participants to either think abstractly (think about why you do something) or concretely (think about how you do something), and compared how participants processed financial aid information when presented in a list with additional written descriptions versus a table which summarized all aid information in a concise, uniform structure. Those that read the financial aid package in a list with written descriptions displayed better recall of details of the aid package, and focused more on the total amount of aid offered than those that read the financial aid package in a table. It is suggested that aid packages separate types of aid into financial gifts and loans rather than bundling them into a single category of financial aid. The need for more personal and engaging student loan education is pressing, and may have long-term effects on financial behavior if designed carefully.

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