SUNY to Combat Student Debt with "Smart Track Campaign"

September 12, 2012

System-wide Effort will Help Students Stay in School & Earn A Degree

SUNY Becomes First in Nation to Adopt Federal Financial Aid Shopping Sheet

New York City – State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher and the SUNY Board of Trustees today announced the “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.

The SUNY campaign is the most proactive, comprehensive approach by any university system in the U.S. to address a growing national concern about the lack of transparency as it relates to college costs and financial aid, and the amount of federal loan debt accumulated by today’s college students.

“We do not want New York State students attending our public colleges, incurring debt, and leaving campus without a degree,” said New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. “I know firsthand from my investigations as Attorney General into the student loan industry both how vital this money is for students and how tricky this system can be to navigate. SUNY Smart Track is an innovative, forward-thinking effort to help college students understand the realities of financial aid. I commend Chancellor Zimpher and the Board of Trustees for tackling the student debt crisis here in New York and throughout the nation.”

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.

“Student debt has surpassed credit card debt in America, and more and more students are defaulting on their loans each year,” said 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.”

“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 SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. 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.”

By resolution at today’s Board meeting, SUNY Trustees launched the campaign at six pilot campuses for the 2012-13 school year, with a charge to all 64 campuses of SUNY to adopt Smart Track by Fall 2013. 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.

The six pilot campuses launching SUNY Smart Track this year are UAlbany, SUNY Fredonia, 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.

These campuses will fine-tune each of the various components in collaboration with one another and help to bring the campaign to scale across the system’s 64 campuses by Fall 2013.

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.

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, with 64 college and university campuses located within 30 miles of every home, school, and business in the state. As of Fall 2017, more than 430,000 students were enrolled in a degree program at a SUNY campus. In total, SUNY served nearly 1.4 million students in credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs in the 2016-17 academic year. SUNY students and faculty across the state make significant contributions to research and discovery, resulting in $1 billion of externally sponsored activity each year. There are 3 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 opportunity, visit

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Holly Liapis
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