Creating an Equitable Universal FAFSA Policy for New York Students
April 13, 2023
By Melissa Clarke
Students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to access state and federal grants and loans. But in New York, the graduating class of 2022 left $200 million of federal financial aid on the table because they didn’t complete the FAFSA.
To increase FAFSA completion, several states have adopted “universal” FAFSA policies requiring high school seniors to submit the FAFSA to graduate. If unable to meet the requirement a guidance counselor or school may waive a student or a student can elect to opt-out.
Evidence shows that these policies have an impact. Louisiana, the first state to implement a requirement, saw increases in FAFSA filing rates and effectively closed the gap in FAFSA completion between "low-income" and "high-income" school districts.
Students who complete the FAFSA by the end of their senior year are 84% more likely to enroll in college. Yet, just 65% of New York high school students completed the FAFSA in 2022. By adopting a Universal FAFSA policy, New York can help ensure our students access financial aid and postsecondary opportunities.
To inform New York leaders seeking to adopt an equitable and effective policy, uAspire hosted three convenings for 100 students, counselors, student support staff, college access leaders, and advocates across New York. As a collective, we developed policy recommendations and worked with New York Senator Andrew Gounardes and his team to include them in the re-introduction of his universal FAFSA legislation.
uAspire recommends that New York:
Include a funding stream to address the need for increased capacity in schools and training for school staff to support students and their specific needs.
Provide at minimum one academic year from the policy passing before the actual requirement takes effect.
Provide standardized waiver and opt-out forms so school districts are not left to create their own.
Enable families to opt out without disclosing specific family circumstances such as citizenship.
Ensure the legislation protects the legal status of students and families who are undocumented.
Account for students who are undocumented in the waiver process without “othering” or being exclusionary.
Give students who opt out an equal opportunity to submit an employment application with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS).
Require schools to publicly report the annual number of completions and opt-outs.
Mandate family outreach to ensure all families have access to the same information (e.g., financial aid and post-secondary opportunities).
Require that all graduating students take a financial literacy course to address knowledge gaps and promote information equity.
Read uAspire’s Support Universal FAFSA Fact Sheet.