Testimony of Matthew Whelan, EdD
Associate Provost for Enrollment and Retention Management
Stony Brook University

December 12, 2012
New York State Assembly Higher Education Committee
Legislative Office Building, Albany, NY

Chairperson Glick and esteemed members of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, thank you for this opportunity to testify on college costs and their impact on students and their families. My name is Dr. Matthew Whelan and I am the Associate Provost for Enrollment and Retention Management at Stony Brook University. In this role, I oversee all undergraduate admission, financial aid and scholarship processes for new first-year and transfer students as well as for continuing students. I am, therefore, extremely concerned about rising college costs.  My concern for students however, is not limited to my professional duties - I am the product of a first-generation, Pell eligible family - one of eight siblings, all of whom have graduated college.  I believe it is my personal responsibility, as well as my professional responsibility, to help others achieve that goal.

The issue of increasing college costs and their impact on students and families is at the forefront of the national conversation. We at Stony Brook University are very proud of our record of providing top tier, quality higher education to our students – an education  that is uniquely affordable. Stony Brook is a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU), a non-profit association of the top 62 public and private research universities in North America. Of these 62 institutions, Stony Brook’s New York State tuition and fee structure is the second to lowest. Only the University of Florida is lower. 1

However, our commitment is not just to affordability, but also to access and success. Stony Brook University's student population is among the most economically disadvantaged of the AAUs- and of the SUNY system - and our students are among the best and brightest. Thirty-six percent of our students are eligible for the federal Pell grant and 48 percent are eligible for the New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). Stony Brook is proud to fulfill its mission of educating these students, many of whom are first generation college students and some of whom are first-generation Americans.

Stony Brook is an exemplar of a top-tier university – in our case a university ranked among the top 1% in the world - that educates large numbers of students from low-income families and from diverse backgrounds, especially in high needs areas such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

And, we have an exceptional record of graduating these students with degrees in their chosen fields. In their book, Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities, the authors write, "At the 16 flagships for which parental education data are available, the adjusted [graduation] gap between high- and low-socio-economic status students ranges from six to 17 points at all but one of the schools. The outlier is Stony Brook, where the adjusted gap is a statistically insignificant 2.6 points and where, in the raw data, low-socio-economic status students are slightly more likely to graduate than high socio-economic status students (62 percent versus 59 percent)." 2 Additionally, our EOP program has received national recognition and we have been recognized by the Education Trust for doing an exemplary job of closing the achievement gap for African American and Hispanic students.  Finally, upon graduation, our students have, on average, $6,000 less in loan debts than the national average for student graduating from public institutions. Stony Brook is living the national conversation by providing high quality, affordable education for a diverse student population … and we live it every day.

Stony Brook graduates 67 percent of our Hispanic students and 70 percent of our African American students – more than most public universities in the country. Some of this success is attributable to our award-winning Equal Opportunity Program. Our President is so pleased with our EOP program that he and his wife have endowed a scholarship to benefit EOP students in our School of Medicine. Stony Brook University celebrates the diversity on our campus and is proud to graduate students whose ethnic and economic makeup reflects our state population. We will preserve this rich learning environment for future generations of Stony Brook students to enable them to reach their full potential as well. 

In the 2012 freshman class, approximately 57 percent of enrolled students received need-based financial aid. The average amount of that aid is more than $8,500. Another 37 percent receive merit-based financial aid averaging more than $3,100 and more than half of the freshman class received self-help aid of nearly $5,500. The university invests 8.9 million dollars of university and foundation funds into undergraduate student scholarships and grants and we hope to raise funds to do more.

Nonetheless, with the passage of SUNY2020, there was concern - legitimate concern - from some legislators that the maximum student TAP award would not cover the higher tuition cost the law allowed. There was concern over the creation of a TAP gap for students whose tuition was, in the past, mostly or entirely covered by TAP.  Under SUNY 2020 however, because the tuition would go up, but their TAP awards would not, SUNY 2020 included a provision to establish a partial tuition credit for TAP-eligible students. Yet, Stony Brook went even further.

In addition to this provision, Stony Brook pledged to hold harmless our most economically disadvantaged and middle class students and to provide additional scholarships to help our students cover the cost of the tuition increase and make progress toward timely graduation. To do so, we created two unique Stony Brook University- funded financial aid programs to supplement the TAP credit in the NYSUNY 2020 legislation.

It is important to note that Stony Brook’s financial aid offerings exceed what is required in the SUNY 2020 statute and are more generous than those offered at the other SUNY campuses. One Stony Brook program is based on need and the other is based on merit.

Stony Brook’s need-based financial aid program holds harmless all undergraduate TAP-eligible students from families with incomes of up to $75,000. These students do not pay one penny of the $300 annual tuition increases provided for in NYSUNY 2020. This program benefits more than 4,100 Stony Brook University students. Our university spends more than $300,000 annually in Stony Brook-funded grants to hold TAP-eligible students harmless from the tuition increase after their SUNY TAP credit.

Additionally, our merit-based aid program provides a $250 annual scholarship to undergraduate students who may not be eligible for TAP, but who file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). These students come from families with incomes of more than $75,000 and less than $100,000 and the student has earned a 3.0 or better grade point average (GPA).

It is important to emphasize that TAP-eligible students from families with an AGI of more than $75,000 to $100,000 may be entitled to the statutory TAP credit, and also may be eligible for the merit-based scholarship if they maintain a 3.0 or better GPA. The University’s goal is to provide students with an incentive to do well and remain on track for graduation in four years. Some students may qualify for TAP, the statutory TAP credit and SBU’s merit-based aid, although no student receives aid in excess of the amount of the tuition increase.

Stony Brook University is grateful for the passage of the SUNY 2020 legislation. It has enabled us to increase tuition predictably – yet minimally enough – to allow for new investment in our students by hiring more faculty and reducing class size on our campus. We have pledged to hire more faculty to educate our students, and we recently announced a cluster hire initiative to advance the hiring of 100 cluster hires under our SUNY 2020 plan.  By 2016 we will have hired 250 new faculty members. These faculty will allow us to expand our student body by 1,200 students by 2016 as well.

These efforts are important for Stony Brook, for SUNY, for the great State of New York and for our nation. Stony Brook’s efforts will ensure that new research, new teaching and new discovery contribute to the knowledge economy that drives our state forward and improves lives for our citizens.

Stony Brook University is committed to continuing its very proud tradition of providing a high quality, affordable education to New York’s students and providing them with the opportunities they deserve to become educated, productive citizens in charting the future of our state and our nation.  By keeping college costs affordable, we are investing in future generations of New Yorkers who will contribute great things to our state, our country and the world.

Stony Brook, SUNY, New York, and our nation deserve no less. I welcome any questions.


1. AAU Data Exchange, 2011 Missouri Tuition & Fee Survey and 2006 Missouri Tuition & Fee Survey, Published on October 26, 2011.

2. William G. Bowen, Matthew M. Chingos and Michael S. McPherson, Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009): 46-47.