Included in House Bill 3, which focused on school finance reform, is a requirement that all high school students submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid—or FAFSA—form prior to graduating. Students will also have the option of filling out the Texas Application for State Financial Aid instead.
Those who choose not to apply for either federal or state aid must submit a waiver signed by a parent or school counselor. Northwest and Keller ISD sophomores who graduate in 2022 will be among the first classes in the state to fall under the new law.
A lot of people believe the biggest reason students are not going to college is costs, said Jerel Booker, assistant commissioner for college readiness and success with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
But 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 students.
Bobby Morris is the director of college and career readiness for Northwest ISD. He said his department fields many questions from parents and students about financial aid.
It may seem stressful initially, Morris said, but it could potentially open doors for the future.
“It lets the students know that there’s money available to them because we have, so often, students who think that college is not an option because they don’t have the finances to go there,” he said. “And FAFSA helps them see that maybe they do qualify for a Pell Grant, or maybe they do qualify for some aid from a college.”
NISD high schools provide resources at their on-campus information centers, where students can seek guidance. Representatives from institutions, such as Texas Tech and Texas Woman’s universities, will appear on campuses to provide information. College students from the University of North Texas are available at Northwest High School on certain days to give advice, Morris said.
In October, the KISD school board approved an agreement with The University of Texas at Arlington to start a similar program beginning in January.
“It’s really to provide access for students to post-secondary education,” said Jennifer Todd, director of guidance and counseling for KISD.
EDUCATION AND FAFSA
Louisiana was the first state to pass a similar law. 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—increasing by about 1,500 graduates from the previous year, according to an email from Sydni Dunn, press secretary with the Louisiana Department of Education.
In Texas, an advisory committee will present plans to the state Legislature by January 2021 about tracking and enforcing the law.
“We have pretty good evidence that when students and their families are helped with completing the FAFSA—that by getting more grant aid, they are less likely to take out the larger amounts of debt,” Baker said. “These types of policies have the potential to help students with their debt burden.”
Liesbeth Powers contributed to this report.