In a world where access to education should be a fundamental right, the burden of student debt remains a pressing issue. At our recent SXSW EDU panel, "Tapping Tech to Solve the Student Debt Crisis," experts in education, finance, and technology convened to explore innovative solutions to this pervasive problem.

Understanding the Challenge

Led by Dr. Betheny Gross, Research Director at WGU Labs, the panel delved into the complexities of the student debt crisis. With the average annual cost of a 4-year degree soaring to $28,000, student loans have become the primary means of financing higher education. This reliance on loans has profound consequences, with 43 million Americans shouldering the burden of student debt.

Betheny emphasized the critical need for scalable solutions to support students throughout their educational journey. She highlighted the profound impact of student debt on individuals' lives, delaying key financial and personal milestones essential for long-term financial health and fulfillment. “Tech is essential to meet the problem — and the scale of the problem," she said.

Tech Solutions

David Helene, Founder and CEO of Beam, and Aaron Smith, Co-Founder of Savi, presented innovative tech-driven approaches to address the student debt crisis. Helene discussed Beam's efforts to streamline emergency financial aid distribution through technology, enabling rapid responses to students' financial needs. He emphasized the importance of leveraging technology to meet students where they are and align supply and demand for emergency aid efficiently.

Smith shared insights into Savi's mission to navigate the complexities of student loans and empower borrowers with information about potential savings. “We need to bring student loan servicing into the 21st century through technological innovations,” he said. We can leverage AI to decipher complex loan documents and provide personalized assistance to borrowers.

Opportunities and Challenges

The panelists discussed the transformative potential of emerging technologies, such as AI and machine learning, to deepen the impact of financial aid support. They emphasized the need for rapid computation and scalable solutions to serve students effectively. Additionally, they addressed the challenges of financing higher education and the importance of advocating for systemic changes at both the federal and state levels.

"We are not currently investing into these programs at a federal level, but the vastness of this problem requires federal solutions," said David Helene.

Call to Action

As the panel concluded, Dr. Gross underscored the urgency of addressing systemic issues in higher education financing, and emphasized the collective responsibility and advocacy needed to drive meaningful change. Helene and Smith reiterated the importance of leveraging technology to address the student debt crisis while acknowledging the limitations and challenges ahead.

This SXSW EDU panel highlighted the pivotal role of technology in addressing the student debt crisis and emphasized the need for collaborative efforts to create systemic changes that ensure equitable access to education without the burden of crippling debt.