Each year, hundreds of thousands of students leave money on the table they could use to pay for college because they fail to fill out the FAFSA. But in just one year, the state of Louisiana has seen a spike in the number of students who have completed the federal aid application.
Compared with this time in 2016, the rate of students completing the FAFSA has increased by 24 percentage points, according to a study group convened by the Louisiana Department of Education. The change comes after the state's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2015 approved a change requiring students to apply for federal financial aid in order to graduate from high school – the first state in the country to do so. Students graduating in the spring of 2018 or after will be required to fill out the FAFSA, but can waive out of the requirement by submitting a form signed by a parent or legal guardian.
In past years, the state’s FAFSA completion rate has been below the national average of 55 percent: 48 percent in 2014-15, and 44 percent in 2012-13. According to the state department of education, students forego about $54 million in federal, state, and other aid for college. It’s been well-documented that students across the country who would otherwise be eligible for certain types of federal aid fail to fill out the FAFSA, which some have said may stem from students’ lack of knowledge about financial aid, or other complexities in the application process.
“We’re pleased to see that high school seniors and their families are making financial planning a priority, especially this early in the process,” said State Superintendent of Education John White, in a statement. “We are hopeful this will become a trend, and in turn, more of our students will further their education and training after high school.”
In addition to requiring high school graduates to fill out the FAFSA, the state attributes the increase in applications to the nationwide shift in the FAFSA timeline. Executive action in 2015 from former President Barack Obama to allow the use of prior-prior year (PPY) income data on the application laid the groundwork to extend the application window. This fall, for the first time, the FAFSA became available to students in October, rather than January.
After the change to PPY and Early FAFSA, high school counselors in Louisiana were encouraged to urge all students to apply for financial aid, the state department said. In Louisiana, like many other states, information from the FAFSA is also used to determine eligibility for certain state aid programs, such as Louisiana’s Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) program. The state department provided counselors with a toolkit with application resources
As of the end of January this year, 12,041 high school seniors in Louisiana (or 29 percent of all seniors) had submitted a FAFSA application, compared with 1,848 (5 percent of all seniors) in January 2016.
“Many didn’t understand that completing the FAFSA drives the engine for TOPS money, for Pell grant money,” said Lissa Copeskey, a senior counselor at a Baton Rouge high school, in a statement. Copeskey said about 75 percent of seniors at her school have completed the FAFSA. “I’ve tried to demystify the process and make it less intimidating by adding fun and competition. The students have been really responsive.”
What do you think about policies requiring students to fill out the FAFSA? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Publication Date: 2/7/2017