SUNY Chancellor Johnson Urges Families to Use Smart Track® Program to Help Lessen Student Debt

February 25, 2019

Arrival of college acceptance letters prompts reminder of key SUNY program that promotes financial literacy for incoming and current students

Nationwide, more than 44 million people have over $1.5 trillion in debt

SUNY is doing its part to ensure college is affordable for its students

Albany – State University of New York Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson today urged students who are considering attending a SUNY college to use the system’s Smart Track® program that promotes financial literacy and can help guide incoming and current college students to lessen student debt.

"With college acceptance letters being mailed to high school seniors across New York, parents and students understandably have concerns about affordability and financial planning," Chancellor Johnson said. "This SUNY program will provide incoming and current students with the tools they need to budget and manage credit to help lessen the burden of future loan debt."

Smart Track® is an online tool designed to improve financial literacy among prospective as well as current students. The program offers courses on everything from budgeting to borrowing to managing credit. The program is designed to encourage smart financial planning and includes assistance in navigating the financial aid process. In addition, Smart Track® provides calculators to determine expenses and loan costs as well as information about applying to college and paying back loans.

The ultimate goal of Smart Track® is to help SUNY students borrow responsibly. The program encourages students to borrow only what they need, know exactly what they’re borrowing, and to stay in college. Students who have a college degree are more likely to pay off their student debt than those who leave. Those who encounter financial difficulties are encouraged to seek help from their campus financial aid office.

Smart Track® is a free service that has been available to SUNY students since 2012. The program was created through a contractual partnership with Inceptia, a division of National Student Loan Program. SUNY is planning to raise awareness of Smart Track® in April, during Financial Literacy Month, with a system-wide marketing effort.

Educating students makes a difference. Data shows that the five SUNY campuses with the most Smart Track courses completed – Old Westbury, Corning Community College, Brockport, Fulton-Montgomery Community College, and Plattsburgh – have lower federal loan default rates than campuses that complete fewer courses. SUNY’s overall default rates are trending downward, from 10 percent in 2012 to 8 percent in 2015. Nationwide, the default rate in 2015 was nearly 11 percent.

The percentage of full-time SUNY students at four-year campuses graduating with debt has fallen too, from 65 percent in 2015 to 63 percent in 2017. And compared to peers across the state, SUNY students tend to borrow less, assuming $26,658 in debt in 2017 compared to almost $31,000 among all New Yorkers.

In recent years, student loan debt has become increasingly problematic. With more than 44 million Americans holding a collective student loan debt valued at more than $1.5 trillion, some economic experts are calling student loan debt a financial crisis. The burden of student loans has forced many borrowers to put their lives on hold, delaying apartment living or homeownership to stay at home with their parents, and postponing marriage and a family.

In addition to enhancing financial literacy, New York State and SUNY strive to ensure college is affordable for students through programs such as Predictable Tuition and the Excelsior Scholarship, the first-in-the-nation free college tuition program for students with household income below $125,000. SUNY also helps students save money with Open Education Resources. OER offers low-cost course materials and resources on-line and spares students from purchasing expensive textbooks. In the last two years, OER has saved SUNY students $16 million. These initiatives, along with the state’s Tuition Assistance Program, provide students with assistance to lower the cost of college.

SUNY also works to keep students in college. Through its partnership with philanthropic organizations such as the Gerstner Family Foundation and the Heckscher Foundation for Children, SUNY provides financial assistance to cover unexpected expenses, including medical bills and vehicle breakdowns. And last year, SUNY launched a new program called Re-Enroll to Complete, which used targeted messaging to convince more than 2,400 students to return to college and finish their degrees, decreasing the likelihood of defaulting on their loans.

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the country’s oldest school of maritime, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2023, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunities, visit

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Holly Liapis
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