Brockport, N.Y.-- It's a warm Wednesday afternoon and Brockport junior Christian Wright is busy taping a segment in front of The Strand movie theatre for BTV, SUNY Brockport's television station.
Wright is an English and Communications major with a focus on creative writing and media production. He doesn't know what he exactly wants to do when he graduates but he knows he needs a college degree to get where he wants.
That's why he decided to come to a State University of New York (SUNY) college. He knew it would be more affordable than a private college, but even still, Christian has had to take out student loans to attend Brockport.
"It would be extremely difficult [without the loan]," he says.
Now, a new initiative at SUNY colleges may help students like Christian better manage their debt and understand their loans.
On Wednesday, the SUNY Board of Trustees approved the "Smart Track" initiative to help the 60 percent of SUNY students who end up taking out college loans.
SUNY officials say the average student loan debt for a four-year SUNY student is $21,000 and about 7 percent of students default on their loans upon graduation.
The “Smart Track” initiative will be adopted at six SUNY campuses as a pilot program this year. Those campuses are UAlbany, SUNY Fredonia, Niagara County Community College, Purchase College, Schenectady County Community College, and SUNY Ulster. The program will be implemented at all SUNY colleges by the fall of 2013.
In a release, SUNY said the following tools and services will be implemented as a part of “Smart Track”:
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.