The State University of New York system has noticed a problem: far too many of its graduates are defaulting on their student loans. And so it’s going to address the issue. The method it’s chosen to do this, however, leaves something to be desired.

According to an article by Jessica Bakeman in the Democrat and Chronicle:

The State University of New York on Wednesday will launch an offensive against mounting student loan debt, a first-in-the-nation initiative that will engage borrowers at every point in the process: when they take out loans, begin repayment and if they need help avoiding default.

Staff at the [SUNY student loan service] center will work with the campuses to craft specific messages for students, communicated mostly by email, to guide them through the borrowing process. Students who are borrowing their first loans might get messages explaining why they shouldn’t take out any more than they need, while students leaving school will get messages explaining how much they might expect to pay each month or what to do if they get behind.

Students will get emails telling them to check out websites. Some students will get “special messages” telling them where to get academic help. If students fail to make regular payments someone from the center will call them to tell them about their options.

“This is a very proactive approach to helping students,” one SUNY official told Bakeman. “And that’s what it’s all about.”

Okay, that’s actually not “what it’s all about.” The average SUNY student leaves school with $21,000 worth of debt. Some 12.7 percent of New York community college students who took out debt to attend college default on their loans. Almost 5 percent of borrowers from 4-year New York schools default.

The reason for this, however, doesn’t have much to do with tracking and monitoring students; it’s about the amount of debt they have. The real problem here is not whether or not the approach to students is “proactive”; it’s that $21,000 figure. The average graduate of a public college in America holds only $12,300 worth of student loan debt.

Are student loan defaults a function of student responsibility, or the high cost of college itself?

As I’ve pointed out before with this sort of thing, the only real policy solution to a problem with students defaulting on their loans is to have students take out less debt. Cheaper college is the solution, not some complicated financial management strategy where school officials contact students.

Until 1963 SUNY colleges charged no tuition.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer