A new state law could help. Included in House Bill 3, which focused on school finance reform, is a requirement that all Texas high school students fill out and submit a free application for federal student aid, or FAFSA, prior to graduating. Current high school sophomores who graduate in 2022 will be the first class to fall under the new law.
“People feel that if you complete the FAFSA, you’d be more inclined to want to go to college [and] to learn more about financial aid,” said Jerel Booker, assistant commissioner for college readiness and success with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. “A lot of people feel the biggest reason … students aren’t going is because of costs.”
Students who apply for federal aid could become eligible for grants, scholarships, loans, study-abroad aid, work-study jobs or tax benefits. Many colleges and universities also use the completed form to determine the financial aid they will provide to their students.
Students will also have the option to fill out the Texas application for state financial aid, or TASFA, instead. Those who choose not to apply for either federal or state aid must submit a waiver signed by a parent or a school counselor.
The Texas Education Agency mandated the federal aid application to make sure people would submit the form, Booker said. Mandating the application also allows the state to spend the time, effort and money to track it, he said.
Louisiana was the first state to pass a similar law, called the Financial Aid Access Policy. It began with the graduating class of 2018. Louisiana officials said they have already seen benefits.
In 2018, the number of high school graduates in Louisiana who enrolled in college hit an all-time high of 25,083 students, according to an email from Sydni Dunn, press secretary with the Louisiana Department of Education. That number represented an increase from the previous year of about 1,500 graduates from the previous year.
“We cannot definitively say these gains are a result of our Financial Aid Access Policy,” Dunn said in an email to the paper. “But we are hopeful the policy has positively influenced college enrollment and will continue to do so.”
Most Grapevine-Colleyville ISD and Carroll ISD students are already completing FAFSA or other federal student aid applications, so this will not be a major change for many, according to school administrators.
The estimated completion rate for federal aid applications among students at GCISD for the 2019-20 cycle was a percentage range of 55%-59%, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. A completion rate for CISD students was not available from the department.
GCISD will continue to offer events and information about financial options to help students and their families, Executive Communications Director Kristin Snively said in an email to the newspaper.
CISD will be passing along messaging about the requirement for applications to high school seniors, Julie Thannum, assistant superintendent for board and community relations, said in an email.
“FAFSA is required for qualifying for some scholarships and for parent loans, so there is definitely a benefit for some students and their families,” Thannum said.