SUNY Smart Track Campaign to target student loan defaults

On Sept. 12, SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher and the SUNY Board of Trustees announced a plan titled the SUNY Smart Track Campaign, aimed at taking an innovative and proactive approach to combating student loan defaults.

“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 in a press release. “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.”

The new proposal involves several measures and steps intended to curb student loan defaulting. These measures include an expansion to the SUNY Student Loan Service Center, an online hub devoted to financial aid information and resources, a loan net price calculator, a redesigned financial aid award letter and an early engagement program.

The U.S. Department of Education partnered with the SUNY system to develop the new early engagement program. It is meant to serve as an early warning, flagging high-risk student borrowers so the system can engage them before more serious issues arise. The National Loan Data System and SUNY will share data to identify these high-risk students.

Geneseo’s Director of Financial Aid Archie Cureton said in an email interview that he has high hopes for the new initiative.

“It is very promising, especially with the expansion of the SUNY Student Loan Servicing Center duties to assist Direct Loan student borrowers,” Cureton said. “The center is excellent at keeping in contact with borrowers who have had loans and are no longer enrolled in school.  It would truly be more difficult for a student to go into default with the center monitoring their loans.”

The plan launched at six pilot SUNY campuses this fall: University at Albany, SUNY Fredonia, Niagara County Community College, SUNY Purchase, Schenectady County Community College and SUNY Ulster. After a process of review and reform, the program will expand to Geneseo and the rest of the SUNY system by fall 2013.

In a press release, Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed his approval of the new initiative.

“We do not want New York state students attending our public colleges, incurring debt and leaving campus without a degree,” Cuomo said. “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,” he said. “I commend Chancellor Zimpher and the Board of Trustees for tackling the student debt crisis here in New York and throughout the nation.”