College students are not immune to difficulties that can cause hardships in completing a college degree. Because of these hardships, many wind up dropping out of school for a multitude of reasons, but doing so can spell financial disaster for their future. Loans that are taken to pay for college need to be repaid whether you finish your degree or not. Studies tell us that student borrowers who withdraw from school are three times more likely to default on their loans than peers who get a degree.
SUNY has developed a unique strategy to bring student borrowers back to school with the effort of helping them complete the degree they started working on but never finished. It’s a new program called Re-Enroll to Complete. This creative, proactive program brings students back to college with carefully crafted email messages sent during the six-month grace period before federal loan repayment begins.
The emails encourage student borrowers to return to college, offer them academic and financial support, and provide a list of options for re-enrolling, including attending college online. The messages also remind the students that their loans are due shortly, and that securing a college degree can guarantee higher earnings in the future to help them pay off those already existing loans faster and more comfortably.
Between March 2018 and May 2019, Re-Enroll to Complete was able to convince 5,738 students on 52 SUNY campuses to return to college, a success rate of 20 percent. More than half of all student borrowers who returned went back as full-time students, with the majority resuming studies at their original campus. Another 21 percent went back half time. The rest attended three-quarter time or less than half time, and 136 students graduated with a degree.
Over a lifetime, returning to college has significant financial benefits. According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, people with a bachelor’s degree have median lifetime earnings of $2.3 million, compared to $1.3 million for those with a high school diploma and $1.7 million for those with an associate degree. In addition, a four-year degree is linked to better health and improved longevity.
Based on the program’s success, SUNY plans to expand the program to all 64 campuses. It may also deliver emails in Spanish, establish a call center for students, and link to other SUNY programs that help enable student success.
Re-Enroll to Complete is just one more way SUNY helps students manage the cost of college and tackle the challenges of student debt.
Winnie Yu is a writer in the Office of Communications at SUNY System Administration.