SUNY initiative aims to make college costs more transparent

SARANAC LAKE – The president of North Country Community College says a new State University of New York initiative will make it easier to understand the costs of going to college.

All 64 SUNY campuses will begin using a standardized financial aid letter – part of SUNY’s Smart Track program – next fall, according to SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher. The letter will let students and their families compare tuition costs and financial aid packages at all SUNY colleges and universities. It will include information about graduation rates and loan default rates, among other things.

NCCC President Steve Tyrell said the new initiative will add transparency to the difficult process of deciding where to go to college and how to pay for it.

“When you look at federal financial aid filing of paperwork, when you get back a response, when you look at what’s coming out for state aid if you’re eligible for Regents scholarships – all these different kinds of things are coming at you, and you’re trying to put it all together,” he said. “So when a college can give you a letter that says, ‘Look, this is how all of these pieces fit together; this is your package,’ it simplifies it.

“That’s critical because it helps people make decisions about where they’re going to go, and that might even mean they don’t come here (to NCCC) – they go someplace else – but at least they can make a decision. And it’s so critical that people are able to do that in an efficient way.”

Shalena Duprey, NCCC’s acting director of enrollment and financial aid, said in a press release that financial aid and college costs can be “overwhelming and hard to understand.

“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,” she said.

SUNY launched its Smart Track campaign last fall. Zimpher said one of the program’s goals is to reduce the loan default rate for SUNY students by at least 5 percent in the next five years. The financial aid letter is an important part of that process, she said.

Tyrell said the financial aid letter will include some of the up-front costs that students and families must pay prior to stepping foot on a college campus. He explained that some low-income students who receive scholarships are surprised to learn about application fees that must be paid in a short time frame; otherwise the scholarship will be awarded to someone else.

“So they can’t see all the different things coming at them because they don’t come at them in one shot,” Tyrell said. “The letter really says, ‘This is what’s due, and this is what you have as a package.’ And that allows them to get into a guidance counselor’s office and say, ‘How can I bridge this?’ or, ‘Who do I call to make this happen?’ That is huge.

“I believe there are some folks that will make better decisions. And I think there are some other folks that will feel they have the right information to talk to folks to actually make a decision to come to college that might not have because it wasn’t easy to discern, with all the stuff they’re being bombarded with, ‘What’s my package?'”

When it comes to average indebtedness of college graduates, SUNY out-performs the national average by close to $5,000. Nationally, college students owe $26,600 upon graduation, according to numbers provided by SUNY. The average indebtedness for a SUNY graduate is $22,575.

Those figures are even lower for graduates of NCCC, Tyrell said.

“Our costs to attend a community college are lower than some of the other state (options),” he said.

Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or