How are social workers handling student debt?

The nation needs more social workers. But when they enter the profession, they’re staring at low salaries and mountains of student debt. How are they handling it?

Gideon Gil and I used the It Gets Smaller student loan tool to find out. First, we used the income planner tool to identify a profession where student loan payments are projected to make up a high percentage of a person’s income.

Then we used the second part of the tool, which generated suggested Reddit threads based on our search. The tool connected us to a hoppin’ Reddit forum for social workers. We posted a question asking for stories of how social workers are handling student loans. We got flooded with stories from around the country.

Read the stories here.

Gideon and I worked along with Léa Steinacker, Charles Kaioun, Melissa Clark and Luis Guillermo Natera Orozco on the student debt team, which created the Its Gets Smaller website.

Our hope in creating the website is not only to connect students to better loan information, but also to create a new way to seamlessly connect readers and journalists to social media and Reddit forums, where they can crowdsource advice and more information.

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Jackpot … or not? New Haven School Lottery Odds

By Melissa Bailey and Audrey Cerdan.

Every year, thousands of New Haven parents try their luck in a lottery for schools of “choice.” Most walk away disappointed: In 2012, “9,333 local and suburban students applied for 2,677 open seats at 29 charter and magnet schools covering grades pre-K to 12,” according to Bailey. Students who live near the school, or already have a sibling in the school, get first dibs on open seats.

Bailey wrote about this in a 2013 article. The interviews were good, but the data was … not so easy for the reader to picture. So Bailey recruited top Parisian digital journalist Audrey Cerdan to try to visualize it better.

Our mission: Give disappointed parents a better sense of their odds in the lottery, to inform their future choices. For example: Maria really wants her daughter to go to Barnard school, which has a fancy vegetable garden and a good reputation. But she lives way across town. What are her chances of getting in?

We answer that question — and many more — in this exciting data visualization. Click “search” to try it out.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 3.17.42 PM

We used Caspio because Bailey liked the interactive dropdown menus and got a free account at a recent Super Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference. BUT it was not so easy to use. And in the end we decided bar charts weren’t the best choice.

Our major hurdle was how to represent the concept of “zero.” As in, you have zero chance of getting into that school if you don’t live nearby. At the end of our struggle with Caspio, we thought of a better way to visualize the data. We think would be a much better way to really give a sense of a person’s odds. Here’s a sketch by Cerdan:


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Pixar Exec Drops Out, Drops In

My on-the-fly audio reporting debut: in which I attempt to rush to cover a talk about … how to stop rushing and meditate.

Reporting time: About four hours, non-contiguous, interrupted by technical hurdles and existential crisis.

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