April 4, 2013

Editorial: Letter facilitates comparisons


---- — It’s getting closer to decision time for high-school students trying to figure out what college to attend, a stressful and often complicated process. But SUNY will soon provide a little help, making it much easier to compare its campuses.

The National Center for Education Statistics recently reported that the average cost of a four-year university degree in the United States has risen almost 250 percent since 1980.

Although many private and public colleges have scholarship opportunities, students and their families face a tangle of information in figuring it all out.

How can you find out easily how much a college charges for tuition? What kind of financial aid is available? It used to take a great deal of research to track down all the facts upon which to make a decision.

But this fall, the State University of New York is introducing a new, standardized financial-aid letter. The system’s colleges in our area — SUNY Plattsburgh, Clinton Community College in Plattsburgh and North Country Community College in Saranac Lake, Malone and Ticonderoga — will all be using the letter.

SUNY has initiated a Smart Track campaign, which it describes as a commitment to transparency in college financing. The new letter will clearly detail the cost of attendance and financial-aid offerings at each of SUNY’s 64 colleges.

The letters will also provide information specific to each campus, such as graduation rates, median borrowing and loan-default rates.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher said the standardized award letter will allow students and their families to easily compare SUNY colleges “and view a full outline of the financial commitment associated with their education.”

The effort is designed to help SUNY as much as the students. The average indebtedness of a SUNY graduate is listed as $22,575, well below the national average of $26,600. But about 267,000 SUNY students borrow money through federal loans each year. The most recent U.S. Department of Education statistics show “more than 75,000 SUNY students entered repayment ... while 6,000 students fell into default (on loans).”

SUNY must cope with those losses. SUNY Smart Track system is designed to contribute toward a system-wide goal of decreasing the student-loan default rate by at least 5 percent over the next five years.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that people with bachelor’s degrees can expect to earn, on average, $2.4 million over their lifetime, which is $1 million more than those with only a high-school education.

But a college degree doesn’t guarantee a position in the current job market, so students have to make careful choices as they decide how much to invest in their post-high-school education.

SUNY’s new award letter will make it all a bit easier to figure out.