State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher and the SUNY Board of Trustees recently announced the launch of a new "SUNY Smart Track Campaign" to combat student debt throughout New York and set a national model as college students across the country are taking on more loan debt than ever before. In doing so, they selected SUNY Fredonia as one of six pilot campuses from across the 64-campus SUNY system.
Smart Track is said to be the most proactive, comprehensive approach by any university system in the U.S. to address a growing national concern about a lack of transparency as it relates to college costs and financial aid, and the amount of federal loan debt accumulated by college students.
SUNY Smart Track will reduce debt among students at the system's 64 colleges and universities by providing students, parents, and campuses with new tools and services to help educate students from the earliest stage, as they are deciding how much to borrow, engaging those at the highest risk for default throughout their time on campus, and working with all student borrowers to help them complete their degrees and obtain a job after graduation that will enable them to pay off their student loans.
SUNY Fredonia Associate Vice President for Enrollment Services Daniel Tramuta, who is also currently serving as President of the New York State Financial Aid Administrators Association, will help pilot the new SUNY “Smart Track” student debt management initiative on the Fredonia campus this year.
"On behalf of our students and their families, we simply must do a better job to ensure that college costs are transparent, financial aid opportunities are outlined clearly and comprehensively, and students are only borrowing what they need and what they can afford," said Chancellor Zimpher. "Smart Track puts SUNY on pace to lead the nation in reducing student debt and creating a more financially sound future for our students and alumni."
"We are honored to be selected as a pilot Smart Track campus. This pro-active initiative will provide greater transparency to college costs, responsible borrowing and default management," added SUNY Fredonia Associate Vice President for Enrollment Services Daniel Tramuta, who is also currently serving as President of the New York State Financial Aid Administrators Association (NYSFAAA), a statewide organization with 350 schools and 1,600 members representing all private, public, community and proprietary colleges and universities.
"It will provide SUNY Fredonia's students and parents with new tools and services to educate them earlier in their collegiate experience about their loan repayment options, and improve their overall financial literacy," Mr. Tramuta added. "We think the inclusion of the Student Loan Service Center within this initiative is brilliant, and will go a long way in delivering effective outbound communication campaigns, social networking platforms and proactive loan resolutions that will help students to effectively manage their overall student loan debt. I applaud Chancellor Zimpher and SUNY Central Administration for taking on an initiative that will engage student loan borrowers at each and every step of the process: during their application and decision-making process, while they are students, and after they graduate."
The campaign includes the following tools and services:
New SUNY Award Letter As the first to adopt the federal Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, SUNY has developed a standard format for presenting financial aid offerings at a campus while also displaying campus-specific graduation rates, default rates, and the median student loan debt of the campus' students. The new SUNY award letter will incorporate this information and enable students and their families to easily compare colleges and make informed decisions on loan borrowing.
Student Loan Service Center Expansion Currently used exclusively by SUNY's state-operated campuses, the SUNY Student Loan Service Center provides Perkins Loan servicing for students and their families. The center will be expanded to serve all SUNY campuses and provide additional services to support Smart Track.
Early Engagement SUNY has partnered with the U.S. Department of Education to develop a data-driven early-warning initiative that will use SUNY enrollment and federal student loan data to identify the root causes of loan default, enabling campuses to "flag" students who possess a high risk. Campus personnel will use the system to "flag" high risk students and engage them from the moment they take out a loan through graduation. Additional services for these students will include information on responsible borrowing and a connection with a web-based learning center with loan payment estimators and other useful tools for managing finances.
SUNY Smart Track Online Resources SUNY's financial aid resources will be made available at a central online hub that will be a one-stop resource for borrowers. Financial aid experts will host online chats via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to answer questions and offer advice to students and families they move through the financial aid process, and additional financial literacy tools and services will be made available.
Net Price Calculator Launched last year by SUNY, the system's Net Price Calculator enables prospective students to calculate the net costs of the attendance at any SUNY school by providing tuition, room and board costs, and fees for all campuses. The calculator also allows campuses to customize the tool for greater transparency.
"Student debt has surpassed credit card debt in America, and more and more students are defaulting on their loans each year," added SUNY Board Chairman H. Carl McCall. "Smart Track will help SUNY to better educate students and parents about the costs of college, help them plan financially for the future, and increase their chances to stay in school and earn a degree."
In addition to Fredonia, the other pilot campuses include the University of Albany, Niagara County Community College, Purchase College, Schenectady County Community College, and SUNY Ulster. The pilot campuses represent a cross section of SUNY colleges and the diverse needs of the various campus communities within SUNY. SUNY's Board of Trustees has instructed all 64 SUNY campuses to adopt Smart Track by the Fall 2013 semester. These campuses will collaboratively fine-tune each of the various components and help bring the campaign to scale across the system's 64 campuses by next fall.
Approximately 267,000 SUNY students borrow through federal direct loans annually. According to recent U.S. Department of Education statistics, more than 75,000 SUNY students entered repayment during the most recent cohort year while 6,000 students fell into default during the same time period. Forty percent of SUNY students, about the same as the national average, graduate without loan debt.