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Louisiana students will no longer be required to complete the FAFSA, despite policy’s success

Screenshot by WWNO + WRKF

Louisiana was the first state to require students to complete the federal student aid form, commonly known as FAFSA. Now, it's also the first to eliminate its policy.

Graduating high schoolers will no longer have to apply for college financial aid, starting next year. The move comes at the request of Louisiana’s top education official, who says the policy isn’t fair to students.

“They should not have to wait on their parent to complete a FAFSA or an opt-out form for FAFSA in order to graduate,” Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley told state school board members this week.

Brumley, and others, also argue families shouldn’t have to share their financial information with the federal government, though the form largely requires details disclosed during the tax filing process.

The FAFSA is the key to unlocking government dollars to help cover the cost of college, including federal student loans, work-study and Pell Grants for low-income students. But many high schoolers never complete the form and each year billions of dollars go unclaimed.

The process is meant to be straightforward (the U.S. Department of Education says it should only take about an hour to complete), but many parents find it challenging. This year’s rollout has been especially messy, with families facing a variety of issues.

Peter Granville researches government efforts to improve college access and affordability. He says a lack of awareness is the reason many students don’t complete the FAFSA. That’s why Louisiana’s requirement made a big difference.

When the policy took effect in 2018, Louisiana’s completion rate jumped to almost 80%. The state has led the nation almost every year since and at least a dozen other states have added similar requirements.

“Other states will be very surprised to hear that Louisiana wanted to reverse this policy,” Granville says.

He also found Louisiana’s requirement helped poor students the most.

“For those concerned about low-income students not completing the FAFSA, it was a stunning success story.”

While switching from an opt-out to an opt-in model may not seem like a big deal, Granville thinks it is. People are more likely to do things when they’re the default, he says. “Our policies communicate what we value the most.”

Board members unanimously approved Brumley’s request this week, though Conrad Appel, a former Republican state senator, said at a committee meeting that he had some “hard feelings."

“We have a state full of very poor people,” he said. “I think we have to be very careful finding the right mechanism to help these people be able to get the finances they need to go to college and other post-secondary options.”

Caroline Roemer, with the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, was the only person to speak against the decision.

“I do worry when there is not something in place” she said, “we will go back to the days when we were once again at the bottom of the list.”

Board members said the focus should be on educating parents on financial aid options and that schools should be held accountable for FAFSA completion, not students.

Brumley says he expects educators to keep prioritizing the form, even when it isn’t a requirement.

“I trust that our principals and our counselors will work with families to do this,” he said.

Granville’s advice to any student who is considering college is to keep treating the FAFSA like it’s mandatory.

“That was the whole point of this policy.”

Aubri Juhasz covers K-12 education, focusing on charter schools, education funding, and other statewide issues. She also helps edit the station’s news coverage.