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States Warm to FAFSA Requirements

States Warm to FAFSA Requirements

Inside Higher Ed

Emma Whitford
February 9, 2022
Several years after Louisiana became the first state to require public high school students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid before they graduate, a dozen other states have implemented or are considering similar measures.
Legislators in Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Nebraska, New York and South Carolina are this session looking at potential policies that would require public high school students to complete the federal aid application or deliberately opt out of the mandate. Advocates of such policies believe they help show students that college can be affordable and that the barriers to access higher education might not be as formidable as they thought.
Lawmakers see FAFSA mandates as “actionable, low-hanging fruit,” said Sunny Deye, program director for postsecondary education at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“It’s been a slow trickle” of states warming to the idea, Deye said. “They invest so much in their financial aid programs, and they want to make sure that eligible students in their state receive aid.”
In total, the public high school Class of 2021 left an estimated $3.75 billion in Pell Grants on the table, according to a recent report from the National College Attainment Network. Between 2017 and 2021, the estimated amount of unclaimed Pell Grant dollars increased by 60 percent.
The number of high school students who complete the FAFSA is declining nationwide. In 2021, 54 percent of high school graduates filled out the aid form, compared with 61 percent in 2017, the NCAN report showed.
Meanwhile, the FAFSA completion rate in Louisiana has increased, thanks to the state’s graduation requirement, said Peter Granville, a senior policy associate at the Century Foundation who studies FAFSA requirement policies. In its first year, FAFSA completion rates among 12th graders increased by 10 percentage points. (This paragraph has been updated to clarify the increase in Louisiana’s FAFSA completion rate.)
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