Image used with permission of Stony Brook University.
By Janelle Clausen
Assistant Arts and Features Editor
President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. announced the Finish in Four fund during his State of the University Address, promising that $250,000 will be available for students whose financial concerns keep them from graduating on time.
The fund aims to assist students in good academic standing who would otherwise be forced to temporarily withdraw from the university, compromising their chances of completing a degree within four years. While 70 percent of students at Stony Brook University graduate within six years, President Stanley said at a press conference last Wednesday that only 48 percent of undergraduates finish on time.
“I’m really disappointed in those numbers,” Stanley said, but voiced optimism that it could get better. The market has improved, he added, bolstering his argument for allocating funds to the program.
College Results Online, which features data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and Department of Education databases, found that many universities similar to Stony Brook University have higher four-year graduation rates.
But the majority of students in universities nationwide do not graduate within four years. According to the Department of Education, fewer than forty percent of students graduate on time and less than two-thirds graduate in six years.
The fund targets those suffering from the “middle class squeeze,” President Stanley said. These are students who have maxed out on their financial aid or those who have short-term financial issues otherwise on pace to finish. Students whose financial aid limit is reached can find themselves forced out of school for a semester, even if it is paying for small items.
“There are times where students drop out for a semester just because of a relatively small amount. But to them, they’re maxed out on their financial aid and say ‘we just can’t come up with the money at this time,'” Stanley said.
Eric Markiewicz, a senior mechanical engineering major at SUNY Maritime College, utilized his internships at Automated Dynamics and the New York State Department of Transportation to help pay for things like transportation and textbooks so he could attend college. Even though he gets the maximum amount of aid, he still takes out about $5,000 worth of loans per semester.
“I wish SUNY Maritime helped people out a lot more, but they don’t,” Markiewicz said. “Most people here don’t graduate on time. I’m one of the lucky few,” he added, noting that he knew people who could benefit from a Finish in Four program.
The National Survey of Student Engagement showed that working more than 20 hours per week can harm a student’s grades, which are one of the criteria for receiving aid. Stanley noted that the most economically disadvantaged students at Stony Brook University actually graduate at higher rates.
“I think when you talk about working jobs, that is a challenge for all students,” Stanley said. “And that’s why I really love and would really like to have more financial aid essentially for our students. And particularly why some of the scholarships are so great is that I’ve had many students come to me and say ‘The difference for the scholarship was not completely my ability to go to school, but my ability to focus on school and not have to work two or three jobs to do it.'”
Ultimately, Stanley considers Finish in Four a “pilot project” that the university will follow closely and expand if it is successful.
“It’s a small program to begin with. We have $250,000 that we’re starting with,” Stanley said. “That’s not an inconsequential sum, but it certainly may not cover everyone who’s interested.”
The Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships did not respond to repeated requests for comment.