Press-Republican

March 4, 2013

NCCC to launch student loan transparency program

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

---- — SARANAC LAKE — North Country Community College is implementing a new financial-aid-review and support system.

It is part of a centralized update across State University of New York campuses, a process meant to ease operation and access to college-cost and financial-aid resources.

Called Smart Track, it gives immediate cost comparison between SUNY universities and colleges, so students and their families know exactly what they are signing up to pay for.

At NCCC, Acting Director of Enrollment and Financial Aid Shalena Duprey said families often find financial aid information hard to understand.

The new system is like one-stop shopping.

“SUNY Smart Track will make the comparison of college cost and financial aid award offers from one school to another easier for families to interpret,” Duprey said in a press release.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher actually launched the initiative in September 2012 at six pilot campuses: SUNY Albany, SUNY Fredonia, Niagara County Community College, Purchase College, Schenectady County Community College and SUNY Ulster.

“The standard award letter will allow prospective students and their families to easily compare colleges within SUNY and view a full outline of the financial commitment associated with their education.” 

’TRICKY SYSTEM’

The larger goal is to help contain student debt and defaults on college loans.

“We do not want New York state students attending our public colleges, incurring debt and leaving campus without a degree,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said as the pilot Smart Track system went into effect last fall.

“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.”

The new system provides 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,” Zimpher explained last fall.

A standard “Award Letter” used across the SUNY system also connects to supports being put in place to “work with all student borrowers to help them complete their degrees and obtain a job after graduation,” she said.

Some 267,000 SUNY students borrow money for college through federal Direct Loans each year, according to SUNY officials.

And, based on U.S. Department of Education statistics, “more than 75,000 SUNY students entered repayment during the most recent ... year, while 6,000 students fell into default during the same time period.”   

Forty percent of SUNY students graduate without loan debt.

NCCC will begin using Smart Track in the fall of this year.

According to the announcement from NCCC President Dr. Steve Tyrell’s office, the average SUNY graduate accumulates $22,575 in debt, while the national average student-loan debt is $26,600. 

Student loan debt is now larger than credit-card debt in the United States.

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com