For many families, the burden of student loan debt is overwhelming; and while Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently introduced a new student loan forgiveness program, the steady rise in percentage of student debt remains an issue.
The New York State Assembly held a public hearing Wednesday to examine both the impact that rising higher education costs are having on students and families across the state and ways in which student loan debt can be reduced.
State education officials gave testimonies on the affordability of a college degree and concerns about the effectiveness of the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), the economic factors that are driving up higher education fees and whether free community college and debt-free college proposals are achievable.
State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher testified about the school’s “completion agenda.” She said SUNY is focused on helping students finish on time or early, because it’s one of the surest ways to diminish student debt.
“We can’t afford to just talk about access. For so many years we’ve been very concerned about access, but we’ve not followed through to make sure that students leave with degree in hand,” Zimpher said.
Zimpher spoke about initiatives helping students finish college in two or four years, which she said were evidence-based, data-driven, and already making a difference at SUNY.
They include a “Re-enroll to Complete” plan – an incentive program which encourages students to return to SUNY to complete their unfinished degree, and a program called “Finish in Four” launched at the University at Buffalo campus in 2012.
“UB commits to providing students with resources including seats in retired classes. In exchange the student makes a pledge to follow a specific academic plan, and if they fulfill all program obligations but still are not able to graduate in four years, they can finish their degree at UB for free,” Zimpher said.
The New York State Comptroller’s Office reports student loan debt has doubled in the last decade. As of 2015, New York residents had an average of $32,200 in student debt, higher than the national average of $29,700.
In addition, the number of the state’s student borrowers has increased by more than 41 percent in the last decade.