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Chancellor Zimpher

How SUNY Keeps College Affordable & Puts Students on a Path to Success

Media reports citing the increasing amount of money students spend in pursuit of higher education are rampant. Loan debt and default among college students is at an all-time high, surpassing even credit card debt nationally. The good news is, leaders from President Obama on down are tackling the many factors that contribute to rising college costs in the public sector, and SUNY is the first in line to bring students the newest and most effective reforms.

In fact, the national affront to cut college costs in recent years has motivated SUNY to innovate and explore new ways in which we can support our students by continuing to offer one of the most affordable educations in the country, and pairing it with one of the most aggressive financial aid awareness campaigns nationally – SUNY Smart Track.

SUNY Smart Track allows us to comprehensively show students what college is going to cost, detail for them their financing options, and support them as they decide how much to borrow and develop a plan to pay it back.

It all starts with the now-standardized SUNY Smart Track Award Letter, which this fall will help guide nearly 80,000 students as they begin their SUNY journey. The program continues by sticking with them throughout their enrollment and beyond with the SUNY Smart Track Financial Literacy Website, providing online tools that help students and alumni grasp and balance all of their finances—from responsible credit card use, to avoiding identity theft, to understanding the basics of banking, borrowing, and working through college.

And it’s working. SUNY students are more informed than ever about the financial commitment that college presents, and as a result, SUNY students incur less debt than the national average, our loan default rate is significantly lower than average, and 40 percent of SUNY students graduate with no loan debt at all.

The increased student awareness and understanding about college costs that has come from the SUNY Smart Track campaign has contributed to our success, but it’s not the whole story.

The SUNY story begins with access – bringing the opportunity of college to every New Yorker regardless of family income, ethnicity, or any other factor that may deter a student from pursuing a degree. We partner with schools and communities across the state, particularly those in the most challenged zip codes, to reach every student as early on in the education pipeline as possible to see that they have access to the teaching, mentoring, and out-of-school support they need to prepare for college and career.

We are doing what we can to reach non-traditional students too – returning veterans as well as people who are older and have life commitments such as a family to support and a job (or jobs) that keep them from believing college is attainable. Open SUNY, our new platform for online education, allows us to vastly increase access to courses from across our 64-campus system and to power certain high-demand degrees with online “anytime” access as well as enhanced student and faculty supports to help them succeed. With digital courses ready to take any time day or night, Open SUNY gives us the capacity to adjust to the schedules of our students and not the other way around.

Through a number of initiatives, including one of the nation’s foremost seamless transfer policies, SUNY is also helping all of our students finish school faster, because cutting time-to-degree is still the number one way to cut costs, and we do it better than most nationally. Today, the average SUNY student takes 4.4 years to earn a bachelor’s degree, and we rank fourth in the nation for students graduating within four years – after only the smaller states of Delaware, Virginia, and New Hampshire.

Taken together with our system-wide commitment to applied learning and cooperative education, in which students acquire on-the-job training as part of their college curricula and enjoy a near-perfect job-placement rate upon graduation, SUNY continues to offer students one of the best chances at success in today’s challenging job market and global 21st century economy.

As this spring semester came to a close, we were proud to welcome nearly 100,000 graduating students to join SUNY’s 3 million alumni world-wide, and we vow to continue our collective efforts to increase access, completion, and success while keeping costs down for our students.

Nancy Zimpher

Written by Nancy Zimpher

Nancy Zimpher is the Chancellor of The State University of New York.

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