Massachusetts scholars may soon have another chore added to graduation requirements. Legislators are debating whether to join five other states nationwide in requiring graduating students to complete the
Free Application for Federal Student Aid regardless of college plans.
The move would ensure all graduating students learn how much federal financial aid they would be eligible to receive. Legislators believe the information could unlock the door to college for state residents who believe that higher education is unattainable because of high cost.
“People don’t know what they don’t know,” said Rep. Andrés Vargas, D-Haverhill, adding that if scholars and their families are unaware of how much aid they could receive, they may not even think of attending college.
“They may think higher education is not possible,” Vargas said.
Five states - Louisiana, Tennessee, Illinois, California and Texas - have made filling out the forms a requirement for graduation, obligating students to complete the paperwork.
The FAFSA is the federal form that collects student data, their family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets and benefits, and calculates their eligibility for all federal aid. Financial help comes as Pell grants, work-study programs and fixed-rate student loans, Federal Direct Student Loans.
In Massachusetts, the FAFSA paperwork unlocks both federal and state funding for college students. Aid can be used for two-year community colleges as well as for traditional four-year colleges and universities. The funds can also be used to pay for shorter one-year certificate courses.
Filling the gap
MASSGrant Plus program can fill in the gap between federal authorized aid and the expected family contribution.
In tracking the relationship between completing the paperwork and college attendance, researchers have found that students who complete the form are more likely to attend college. And enrollment rates in those states has increased.
Completing FAFSA almost guarantees college enrollment, said Femi Stoltz, the Massachusetts policy director for
uAspire, the organization that is championing the proposed legislation. Citing statistics compiled by the National College Attainment Network, Stoltz pointed out that students who complete the paperwork are 84% more likely to attend college.
“There’s an assumption that low-income students don’t want to go to college,” Stoltz said. She called that a fallacy, pointing out that the reported expense of college could lead students to believe that attending is out of their reach.
“Massachusetts should be vigorously discussing it,” said Chris Gabrieli, chairman of the
Massachusetts Board of High Education. While the board has not endorsed the proposed measure, Gabrieli is gratified the issue has been raised and is being discussed among the legislators.
In Massachusetts, where higher education is almost necessary for success, requiring all graduates to fill out the FAFSA makes sense, Gabrieli said.
Lower-income students may be the most affected by the proposed requirement.
“We need to mandate the conversation between a student and their school,” Vargas said.
More than one-third neglect forms
Even without the graduation requirement, the majority of Massachusetts students, about 63%, fill out the paperwork. However, 37% leave money they could be using to further their education on the table.
Looking at why so many don’t complete the paperwork, the
National College Attainment Network estimates that students fail to complete the paperwork for several reasons, including inability to do so due to the complexity of the forms, language issues, and lack of knowledge that the program exists. Students may be debt-adverse, think they won’t qualify or may have already decided that college is not in their future.
The complexity of the form is due to change now that the federal government has enacted legislation, the
FAFSA Simplification Act, that requires it to be streamlined and more accessible to all. The new, streamlined applications are expected to be implemented by 2024.
The bill, in its current form, would create a FAFSA Trust Fund, setting aside money to support districts as they oversee the new graduation requirement. Other sticking points to be ironed out include waivers for students, implementation costs and a determination on the responsibility of overseeing the measure. If passed in Massachusetts, the FAFSA graduation requirement would not come into effect until 2026.
View original article