- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2017

The State University of New York will begin seeking private donations to expand programs proven to help keep students enrolled and on track to graduate, the leader of the public university system said Monday.

Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said the creation of the SUNY Impact Foundation marks the first time in the system’s history that it will actively seek private-sector investment for SUNY-wide efforts focused on college affordability and completion.

The foundation’s work will reach beyond that of the foundations found on some of SUNY’s 64 New York campuses, said Zimpher, who announced the plans during her annual State of the University address in Albany.

SUNY has never had anything like this until now - a system-level repository that allows us to actively seek private-sector investment in programs proven to expand access, drive completion and prepare students for success,” she said.

She also plugged Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to make SUNY colleges tuition-free for New York residents earning less than $125,000 a year, saying that, too, would lead to more diplomas.

“It recognizes that zeroing in on access is not enough - that completion is key,” she said, “insisting that awardees are enrolled full time, because we know that makes them more likely to graduate on time.”

Connected to Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship plan, she said, SUNY also will step up efforts to help families apply for financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA. Nearly 40 percent of the state’s public high school students currently don’t complete the form, which provides access to most aid programs and scholarships, she said.

SUNY’s 2017 plans also include expansion of a program in which students who have withdrawn from school are called and invited to re-enroll and complete their degrees as a way to avoid later defaulting on student loans. During a 17-campus pilot program, SUNY Brockport saw more than half of the students contacted return to campus.

Monday’s was Zimpher’s eighth and final State of the University address as leader of the nation’s largest public university system, which enrolls more than 440,000 students. She announced last year that she would step down on June 30.

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