New Paltz Adopts New Financial Aid Letter

Photo By Robin Weinstein

SUNY New Paltz will join other SUNY campuses in adopting a new standardized SUNY Smart Track Financial Aid Award Letter beginning in mid-March with prospective and transfer students of the 2013-14 academic year.

“The new letter was developed by a committee of campus financial aid directors and others who were tasked with adopting the intent of the Federal Financial Aid Shopping Sheet while creating a unique version for SUNY,”  according to a SUNY New Paltz press release.

By using reported FAFSA information, the Federal Shopping Sheet subtracts grants and scholarship from the estimated cost of the upcoming academic year to provide an estimated net cost and expected family contribution. The Shopping Sheet also shows student and parent loan options, work options and metrics, an overview detailing the college’s graduation rate, loan default rate and median borrowing.

Director of SUNY New Paltz’s Financial Aid Office Daniel Sistarenik said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher adopted the standardized award letter for all SUNY schools as part of the SUNY Smart Track campaign, a broader commitment to transparency in college financing.

Sistarenik said the letter “helps families become consumers” and will be a “great consumer information tool.”

“The objective is to let families know before they owe — to  stop and think about loan debt and erase the excuse ‘I didn’t know I owe this much money,’” Sistarenik said.

As stated in the press release, the Shopping Sheet can also be used to compare various college aid offers by giving students a “bottom line” of what they have to pay before having to consider loan aid.

SUNY New Paltz is one of more than 600 institutions that have committed to adopting the shopping sheet, according to the Acting United States Department of Education Assistant Secretary David A. Bergeron.

“The Federal Shopping Sheet is clear,” Sistarenik said. “It makes people stop and think about the total cost and loans and in this economy, you should only borrow what you need.”

Sistarenik said New Paltz has sent prospective students its own preliminary eligibility estimate letter for the past 19 years which gave a quick estimate of each semester’s total cost. The SUNY Smart Track Award Letter has already been drafted, but as with all new implementations, Sistarenik expects confusion and  is going to write a letter to explain the new Award Letter.

Vice President of Enrollment L. David Eaton said he thinks the Award Letter is helpful for first timers and it calls on schools to be responsible. As a father of three and having worked at SUNY New Paltz since 1998, Eaton said the Shopping Sheet is a good resource.

“As much as I knew, I had no idea how complicated doing the FAFSA and navigating the whole financial aid scholarship estimated cost of attendance was,” Eaton said. “It’s very complex and I think students and their families can use all the help they can get to navigate a very complicated system…I think [the Award Letter] goes a long way in making things a little simpler.”

Eaton said the metrics on the Award Letter reflect well, as they show that New Paltz is well above national statistics.

The standardized Award Letter will be available by the Accepted Students Open House on Saturday, March 16.

“We’re on the front edge of the whose able to implement the Shopping Sheet because we have the I.T. resources,” Eaton said. “It’s not all about the lowest sticker price, it’s about the value New Paltz has, which is something students realize when they come visit the school.”