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SUNY Expands Re-Enrollment Program Across State University System

An event at SUNY Old Westbrook announcing the expansion of the university system's re-enrollment program.
Image Courtesy Of The State University Of New York
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An event at SUNY Old Westbrook announcing the expansion of the university system's re-enrollment program.

The State University of New York is expanding its re-enrollment outreach program to every SUNY campus to increase the graduation rate of low-income students and people of color.

The “Re-Enroll to Complete” program reaches out to students who dropped out of college before they have to pay back their federal student loans, urging them to re-enroll by offering them academic and financial support. The state piloted the program in 2018.

SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras said the program’s expansion helps close the racial equity gap in education, a goal of the system’s diversity, equity and inclusion action plan.

An analysis from SUNY showed that students of color have lower rates of retention and graduation than the SUNY average. And student borrowers who withdraw from school are three times more likely to default on their loans than students who get a degree, the state said.

“One of the results of COVID, but even before COVID, has been enrollment. We’ve experienced great enrollment challenges in higher education, but to me it’s not an enrollment challenge, it’s an equity challenge,” Malatras said at SUNY Old Westbury on February 1.

“I’m excited about this," Malatras continued. "You have to invest in the areas that work. Getting our students to stay in college, complete college, avoid unnecessary student loan debt, avoid unnecessary defaults on their student loans, getting them linked to a career is not just our mission, but it’s our moral obligation as educators.”

The program has re-enrolled nearly 20,000 students into SUNY schools since it started at 28 institutions in 2018. Since then, funding for the program has expanded to 53 campuses and will start at the seven remaining SUNY campuses. Already established programs on other campuses will receive additional funding to expand.

Chanell Napier, a Black student and senior at SUNY Old Westbury, said the program allowed her to go back to take online classes at the university while she works. She took time off for her mental health after her sister died suddenly.

“I wasn’t sure that I wanted to come back,” Napier said. “But between my brother and my mother and my father and my significant other telling me you have to come back, you have to complete it. And for Old Westbury to be like family to me, to say you know what? Yeah, come back. We got you. Financial aid, there. Advisors, there. This is a blessing in disguise.”

Stony Brook University is one of seven universities that will immediately join the program. Judith Clarke, the university’s chief diversity officer, helped SUNY develop the state inclusion action plan. She said she is proud that Stony Brook University will start participation in the re-enrollment program.

“You can’t get an interview unless you get a bachelor's degree,” Clarke said. “And so many times you don't even have the opportunity to be competitive in the workforce without this degree. So I think it is, and I know it is, definitely something that will help tremendously all students, but in particular students of color.”