Scholarship News

Mandatory FAFSA Policy to Become New Graduation Requirement?


August 18, 2020 2:22 PM
by Susan Dutca-Lovell
Each year, upwards of $3 million in college financial aid goes unclaimed by low-income college students, despite the fact that it costs nothing to complete and file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and that more than half of U.S. high school graduates qualify for free federal student aid. To help close the gap of unused and unmet financial aid for many students, states are beginning to enact Mandatory FAFSA policies, which require high school seniors to either apply for federal student aid or opt-out before they graduate. So far, the results have been promising for three states who are leading the way.

Each year, upwards of $3 million in college financial aid goes unclaimed by low-income college students, despite the fact that it costs nothing to complete and file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and that more than half of U.S. high school graduates qualify for free federal student aid. To help close the gap of unused and unmet financial aid for many students, states are beginning to enact "Mandatory FAFSA" policies, which require high school seniors to either apply for federal student aid or opt-out before they graduate. So far, the results have been promising for three states who are leading the way.

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Louisiana is currently the only state to have fully enacted the FAFSA mandate that requires high school seniors to submit their FAFSA or an opt-out waiver in order to graduate. The outcome? In only one year, it closed the gap in completed FAFSA applications between high- and low-income school districts by 87 percent. Within two years, the gap was completely closed, according to Inside Higher Ed. Illinois school districts are required to help parents and students navigate the FAFSA application process and to make a "good faith effort" in assisting them before allowing them to opt-out of the requirement. In Texas, while school counselors are able to waive students' requirement as they see fit, they are incentivized by a new performance-based funding policy to maximize the number of students who file the FAFSA.

A study of the mandatory FAFSA policy reports that it is a less costly and "easy solution to FAFSA completion." The policy - coupled with hands-on support for students and families in completing the FAFSA - not only increases FAFSA completion rates and college enrollment, but shows potential in "correcting long-standing disparities in FAFSA completion between high-poverty, diverse school districts and their lower-poverty, less diverse peers."

In such fiscally-challenging times where rising college costs and college affordability are some of the major deterrents in pursuing a postsecondary education, lawmakers nationwide are intervening with what is considered to be "one of the fastest-moving movements in college access policy." Do you support the high school graduation requirement of completing the FAFSA? Why or why not?

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