More States Are Mandating High Schoolers Complete the FAFSA—But Is it Helping?

By Allie Arcese, Sr. Director of Strategic Communications & Engagement

By Allie Bidwell, NASFAA Managing Editor

Texas made headlines recently for enacting a law requiring high school students to complete a FAFSA in order to graduate, becoming the second state in the nation to do so after Louisiana approved a similar policy in 2015. And while initial results of mandating the FAFSA appear to be promising, questions remain as more states consider implementing the requirement. 

In Louisiana, high school seniors graduating in 2018 were the first to be required to complete a FAFSA in order to graduate. In Texas, graduating seniors in the 2020-21 year will be required to fill out the federal aid application. Meanwhile, the Illinois state legislature passed a law to implement the requirement in 2020-21—and Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said he will sign it.

So far, the outcomes from Louisiana show a positive impact. Overall, the state’s graduation rate has increased by 9.1 percentage points since 2012, compared with the 4.6 percentage point growth nationally. In 2018, the same year the policy went into effect, the number of Louisiana graduates enrolling in college climbed to an all-time high of 25,083 students—an increase of 1,566 from the previous year, and an increase of 4,626 from the Class of 2012, according to a spokesperson from the Louisiana Department of Education.

While the state “cannot definitively say” the increases are a direct result of the policy, officials “are hopeful the policy has positively influenced college enrollment and will continue to do so,” the spokesperson said. 

Additionally, Louisiana in 2018 became the first in the nation for FAFSA completion, according to the National College Access Network (NCAN). That trend continued in 2019, with 78.7% of students completing the FAFSA as of June 28, 2019. According to NCAN, Texas currently ranks 31st in the nation, with 55.2% of students completing the FAFSA, and Illinois ranks 10th, with a 63.3% completion rate.

In all three states, there are parameters in place to allow for certain exceptions. In Louisiana, for example, a parent or legal custodian, or a legally emancipated student can submit a waiver if they refuse to complete the FAFSA. Additionally, the state can apply a waiver if the student is not able to complete the requirement due to extenuating circumstances.  

Still, it remains to be seen whether mandating FAFSA completion will have a positive long-term impact in terms of high school graduation rates, college enrollment rates, and more. One concern is whether requiring students to complete the FAFSA will only further complicate issues for students and families without additional resources, as many already struggle to complete the form. 

In Louisiana, the state Department of Education created a Louisiana Counselor Assistance center to ensure the policy was implemented effectively, and has convened a Financial Aid Working Group and assisted schools in holding events to walk families through filing the FAFSA and making financial plans for college.

What do you think about policies requiring students to fill out the FAFSA? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Publication Date: 7/18/2019

Christy D | 7/18/2019 9:35:48 AM

This, in a way, could be a good recruitment tool to get students to go to college, however, I can also see it as a trap to burden more students with loan debt. (Yes, I know that it is ultimately up to the student to accept loans or not, we are not twisting their arms). in my opinion, I also think it is a sneaky way to catch parents who aren't filing taxes and stress them out so much about graduation for their child that they actually get the taxes done . I feel this will cause more work for high school counselors who will have to field phone calls with questions and additional "waiver" paperwork. Why can't it just be a requirement to take a high school class on college options and opportunities where FAFSA instruction could be part of the curriculum as an OPTIONAL assignment? Why force it upon those who have no desire to attend post-secondary education? (College isn't for everyone, it takes all kinds to make the world go round). It seems that it would also cause a lot more work for financial aid offices at schools to process notices, awards, etc to a bunch more students that may not have had any intention to attend in the first place. Just my two cents.....

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