One-time FAFSA application could increase participation, report says

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Requiring college-bound students to submit a one-time Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) would increase completion rates across the nation, according to the Center for American Progress, a Democratic-leaning research and advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.

Currently, students need to apply annually.

“FAFSA is a gateway to all financial aid and a necessary part of applying to college,” said Angelo Vozza, the college advisor at Holland High School, where only 50% of students complete their applications.

Vozza said he educates students about the FAFSA process and helps those who need assistance filling out the form.

Only 55.9% of  the state’s 2019 high school graduates completed their FAFSA applications, down from 56.8% the previous year, the Michigan College Access Network said. 

Michigan ranked 25th among the states in FAFSA completion rates, with both Illinois and Ohio ranking higher, according to the National College Access Network.

State Rep. Darrin Camilleri, D-Brownstown Township, a first-generation college graduate, said that over $100 million is being left on the table because Michigan students don’t know the aid is there or because they don’t think they’ll qualify. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has challenged Michigan students to reach the goal of a 75% completion rate for 2020, a goal that only Louisiana and Tennessee reached in 2019, according to the National College Access Network.

A one-time application for low-income students would give them access to financial aid like Pell grants, a federal subsidy of up to $6,195 a year, as well as loans, for their entire college career.

Only 31% of 1.8 million low-income high school seniors will arrive at college with Pell grants they’re eligible for, said the National College Attainment Network, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C.  

In Michigan, approximately 48 percent of students are eligible for Pell grants, meaning 24,800 seniors who may have received a grant did not receive one, according to the Michigan Education Association. 

FAFSA now requires a new application every school year to confirm that student and family  incomes haven’t changed. The 2018 Center for American Progress study said the incomes of 70% of those eligible for Pell grants didn’t change by $500 or more from year to year.

Camilleri has introduced a bill that would require high school students to complete a FAFSA application to graduate. It’s being amended to allow students to opt out of the mandatory application for any reason.

The bill was modeled on the 2018 Louisiana law that requires students to do the same and has led to a 25% jump in completion rates in that state, Camilleri said. 

If Camilleri’s bill passes, he predicts a similar jump in completion rates like Louisiana could follow and achieve Whitmer’s goal of 75% completion rate. 

The Michigan Association of State Universities, which represents the state’s 15 public universities, says it supports the concept of the bill if it allows students to opt out with no questions asked.

The bill is in the House Education Committee.

Meanwhile in Congress,  Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, and Doug Jones, D-Alabama, introduced legislation in October to address problems they say are preventing low-income students from completing FAFSA. 

Their bill would streamline the process for applicants who have already demonstrated their need to the federal government. It would also make it easier for families to see if they are eligible for aid. 

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