News: State Policy & Advocacy

Texas, Indiana Considering Mandatory FAFSA Filing for High School Students

Thursday, February 7, 2019  
Posted by: Jack Porter, Advocacy Associate
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The initial results of Louisiana’s unprecedented policy move requiring high school seniors to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) before graduation are exceptional. In just one year – from 2017-18 to 2018-19 – the state’s FAFSA completion rate increased by a whopping 25.9 percent. And although the impact that this new rule had on postsecondary enrollment remains unknown, the Texas and Indiana legislatures are already considering measures to match the regulatory efforts of Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Increasing FAFSA completion among high school students matters because applying for financial aid is strongly correlated with positive postsecondary student outcomes. Prospective college students who fill out a FAFSA are 63 percent more likely to enroll and 72 percent more likely to persist than their non-filing peers.

In Texas, legislators will be considering a bill that would require public high school students to apply for financial aid in order to graduate.

Texas state Rep. Victoria Neave, the author of House Bill 535 (HB 535), cited the estimated $300 million in Pell Grants Texas students leave on the table annually in her press release upon filing the bill. “We can transform a family and create generational change with a college degree, as well as help our Texas economy by connecting existing resources with the families who need it the most,” said the Dallas County Democrat.

College Forward, an NCAN member and advocacy grantee, has taken notice of the early results in Louisiana and is eager to contribute to the new dialogue in Austin.

“Increasing FAFSA completion rates in Texas has been at the top of our list of priorities at College Forward since our founding,” said Austin Buchan, CEO of the Austin-based group. “We are thrilled that state leaders in Louisiana have sparked this debate, and we look forward to engaging with our legislature throughout this new session.”

Much like Louisiana’s approach, Texas’ HB 535 allows students to submit a waiver if they or their parents do not wish to complete the FAFSA or state aid application.

Meanwhile, in Indiana, Republican state Rep. Robert Behning filed House Bill 1629, which calls for students to complete the FAFSA and a career and technical education course, starting with the class of 2023.

Notably, there is no opt-out provision in Indiana’s HB 1629. This lack of flexibility for families is a noteworthy distinction between this bill and its two counterparts in Louisiana and Texas. In Louisiana, more than one in five high school seniors chose not to complete a financial aid application in award year 2018-19.

As of Jan. 25, Texas and Indiana are ranked No. 20 and No. 35 in the country, respectively, for percentage of high school seniors who have completed the FAFSA. Louisiana edged out Tennessee for the top spot in the previous award year, with 77.1 percent of its high school seniors completing the form.

Dr. Sujuan Boutté, executive director of the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance, said last year that the primary goal of the state Board of Education’s new graduation requirement was to improve the college-going culture in Louisiana. “With this policy, you capture students who are on the fence, haven’t thought about college at all, or maybe have thought about it but did not feel that it was within reach financially,” she said.

Acknowledging the principal goal of increasing the number of degree holders in the Bayou State, Boutte said: “It’s just a part of a much larger mission for us.”

Postsecondary outcomes from last year’s high school graduating class in Louisiana will of course be the first of their kind, providing stakeholders with a sense of the potential impacts of requiring students to apply for financial aid. However, policymakers who are eager to bring in more federal dollars to their state and improve student outcomes, so far have reason to believe that requiring FAFSA completion of high school seniors is worth considering.

(Image of the Texas State Capitol via Clairissa Simmons, CC BY 4.0 license)