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February 22, 2013

Area students, schools fight for financial aid

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

---- — Staff and students at colleges in Oneonta are working on boosting accessibility to financial aid and details about indebtedness.

This week, three area public colleges announced they have joined a SUNY-wide program and adopted a letter format to help students understand their financial aid packages.

Earlier this month, Hartwick College students went to the state Capitol to lobby for financial aid, and the college president knocked on doors of federal lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to discuss the importance of financial aid.

On Feb. 12, a Hartwick contingent including four undergraduates joined high school and college students, faculty and staff in Albany for New York Student Aid Alliance Advocacy Day to share stories about the value of state student-aid programs.

The students agreed their participation was vital in letting legislators know how significant financial aid is toward students’ ability to attend college, a media release from the college said.

“Without financial aid, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go to college,” said Maria Mastroianni, a senior from Schenectady. “That’s why I believe that advocating is so important.”

Of more than 1 million students enrolling in colleges across the state, 50 percent of New Yorkers attending college in-state as use Tuition Assistance Program funds to help meet college expenses, Hartwick’s release said.

Hartwick College President Margaret L. Drugovich said she recently met with federal lawmakers or their staff members to share examples of how financial aid opens doors of higher education and the importance of donations to the college. The average indebtedness of a Hartwick graduate is $27,000, she said.

Later this year, SUNY colleges in Oneonta, Delhi and Cobleskill will use a new, standardized financial aid letter from the State University of New York.

All of the SUNY system’s 64 campuses will use the letter for the 2013-14 academic year, as part of the SUNY Smart Track campaign, a commitment to transparency in college financing that was launched in September.

In the new format, students and their families to see the cost of attendance and financial aid offerings at each campus, including campus-specific information such as graduation rate, median borrowing and loan default rate, a media release said.

“This is a positive step in streamlining the financial aid process for prospective students and their families,” said Rob Mazzei, director of admissions at the State University College of Technology at Delhi, said in a prepared statement. “It will allow them to compare colleges and make informed decisions on loan borrowing.”

The average indebtedness of a SUNY graduate is $22,575, below the national average of $26,600, SUNY officials said, and the majority of SUNY students repay their loans.

At SUNY Delhi, among students with loans, the average at graduation is about $12,000, a release said. 

At the State University College at Oneonta, a quarter of the class of 2011 had no debt at graduation, college officials said, and the average amount of debt for those with loans was $13,700. SUNY Oneonta was ranked No. 3 last month in Kiplinger’s report on “10 Public Colleges with the Lowest Debt for Graduating Students.”

The State University College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill didn’t provide an average indebtedness figure for its graduates.