Press Release 

December 13, 2019


New York State Department of Financial Services, SUNY Empire State College, and Rockefeller Institute of Government Announce New Academic Partnership 

Joint Effort will Help Address Student Debt Crisis and Consumer Protection Issues

The New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS), SUNY Empire State College, and Rockefeller Institute of Government announced today an agreement to establish a partnership that will foster collaboration between the academic and research capacities of the two academic institutions and DFS’ work to protect consumers. The new collaboration will be designed to create professional development opportunities for students and help generate research that will better inform policies addressing issues facing student borrowers and other emerging consumer protection issues. 

"Students are best positioned to understand how student debt affects themselves, their peers, and families," said Linda A. Lacewell, Superintendent of Financial Services. "This partnership with SUNY Empire and Rockefeller Institute of Government provides an opportunity for students to apply their knowledge and skills to generate innovative ideas to resolve the student debt crisis and train the next generation of professionals in the financial services sector. New York will continue to step up for students while Washington steps down."

"New York State is the state of opportunity and today's partnership is a testament to this mission," said Jim Malatras, president of SUNY Empire State College. "With the millions of students enrolled in colleges and universities in New York and the trillions of dollars outstanding in student loans, it is now more important than ever to deploy every effort to combat predatory lending and offer professional development opportunities for the benefit of our students and families." 

"Today's partnership shows government and universities can collaborate to deliver answers to pressing problems, including ballooning student debt," said Patricia Strach, Interim Executive Director of the Rockefeller Institute. "Students can apply their research and experience to generate workable solutions to a problem that currently affects nearly 2.8 million New York student-loan borrowers."

Today’s careers and jobs increasingly require the credentials, knowledge, and skills gained through college and universities, but the steep cost of higher education leaves prospective students and recent graduates in a precarious position.  In New York, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has pursued and enacted policies to alleviate the financial burden of higher education, such as the Excelsior Scholarship, which provides cost-free tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities.  However, there are still barriers that place success at education and employment outside of the reach of New Yorkers.

Under the new academic partnership, DFS will be better positioned to access the workforce of tomorrow, bringing talented SUNY Empire students - and students who work with the Rockefeller Institute - into the DFS student internship program to support the Department’s role as a leading advocate for student borrowers and families - as well as to provide assistance to other specialized divisions dedicated to addressing consumer protection issues. This collaboration will also leverage the Rockefeller Institute’s applied research expertise to collect and compile data into accessible tools and guides, as well as develop and refine policy proposals on emerging needs in the financial sector. 

Furthermore, through this new partnership, SUNY Empire will work to award college credit for DFS employees’ prior learning, training, and life experience to reduce the time and cost needed to complete an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree, as well as waiving orientation fees and providing a $100 Presidential Scholarship. This partnership supports SUNY Empire’s mission to remove barriers to learning and DFS’ mission to keep pace with the rapid and dynamic evolution of financial services in New York.

DFS was created in 2011 by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo through the merger of the state’s Banking and Insurance Departments with a mission to reform the regulation of financial services in New York to keep pace with the rapid and dynamic evolution of these industries, to guard against financial crises, and to protect consumers and markets from fraud.  DFS supervises and regulates the activities of approximately 1,500 banking and other financial institutions with assets totaling more than $2.6 trillion and more than 1,400 insurance companies with assets of more than $4.7 trillion.  In 2019, DFS launched “Step Up for Students,” a statewide initiative that followed DFS gaining supervisory authority over student loan servicers in New York State.  In fall 2019, DFS unveiled a ten-point Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights to ensure that the 2.8 million New Yorker student loan borrowers know their rights and where to turn when faced with predatory or unfair lending practices.

SUNY Empire State College was established in 1971 as a distinctive statewide SUNY institution focused on nontraditional teaching and learning, where college faculty mentors guide learners through designing an individual degree program within 12 broad areas.  SUNY Empire serves mostly working adults pursuing associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees onsite at 35 locations in New York state and abroad, as well as online everywhere.  Partnerships the college has with organized labor, all branches of the military and the private and nonprofit sectors enable these organizations to educate their members and employees to meet mandates and licensure requirements, adapt to the requirements of new technology and provide paths for promotion.

The Rockefeller Institute of Government, created in 1981, is a public policy think tank within the State University of New York providing cutting-edge, evidence-based policy.  The Institute’s mission is to improve the capacities of communities, state and local governments, and the federal system to work toward genuine solutions to the nation’s problems.  Through rigorous, objective, and accessible analysis and outreach, the Institute gives citizens and governments facts and tools relevant to public decisions.  In 2019, undergraduate research interns from the Institute's Center for Law & Policy Solutions (CLPS) conducted extensive research on the effect of student loan debt on college and career decision-making.  Their research identified challenges students face navigating the financial aid process and advanced policy recommendations for improvement.