March 1, 2022

Ensuring Florida Students Get All the Financial Aid They Deserve

Filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is required in order to receive Pell Grants and other forms of financial aid. FAFSA is also needed to obtain student loans, and it determines eligibility for work study programs. While it is a federal form, colleges and universities also use the FAFSA to determine state and college aid available to students. Every year, millions of students nationwide leave billions of dollars unclaimed because they did not fill out the FAFSA or did not fill it out completely. Last year, Florida students alone left over $304 million in Pell Grants on the table.

Florida also ranks 48th out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., for its FAFSA completion rate. In fact, only 23.5 percent of graduating high school seniors completed a FAFSA in 2021, a 2.3 percent decrease from 2020. Louisiana was the first state to fully implement the policy that in order to graduate, students must complete the FAFSA. Doing so closed the complete-rate gap between the low-income and high-income districts from 8.5 percent to 1.1 percent in just one year. In addition, four out of five high schools went from one-third of students completing the FAFSA to a completion rate of 65 percent or higher.  Since then, seven other states have enacted similar legislation or added it to graduation requirements through administrative change. The versions in each state differ in the degree of support offered to schools and students to complete the form. They also differ in how schools are incentivized for the students who complete the FAFSA and subsequently attend college.

A recent study from the University of Florida of academically successful community college students who did not finish their degree shows that the top three reasons for not completing their degree are financial: the cost of tuition and fees, the cost of living expenses, and no longer being eligible for financial aid.  It also found that students of color were disproportionately impacted and had higher non-completion rates than their white counterparts.  This study echoes findings from other studies that show gaps in college completion rates of 18 percent between Black and Latina/o students as compared to white students.

Mandatory FAFSA completion is not the only answer to improving access to higher education for all Florida students; however, it is a great step forward.

Filling out the FAFSA means more than just getting financial aid, although that is critical.  Completion of the form is positively correlated with seeking postsecondary education. However, students who benefit the most from completing the FAFSA are less likely to fill it out. Students in high poverty school districts are less likely to complete the FAFSA than students in better resourced school districts. Every $1,000 in financial aid increases the likelihood a student will attend college by several percentage points.

There are other reasons, too, why students do not complete the FAFSA —  these include not knowing how to apply,  thinking the form is too complicated, or being unaware of financial aid. However, mandatory FAFSA completion could change that by ensuring students are aware of its importance and directing students to support to help them fill out the FAFSA completely and correctly.

Mandatory FAFSA completion is not the only answer to improving access to higher education for all Florida students; however, it is a great step forward. FAFSA completion is an easy way for the state to increase financial aid to students, which would encourage more students to attend college at a low cost to state coffers. Legislation (HB 979/ SB 698) would make FAFSA completion a graduation requirement with appropriate opt-out provisions should the student or parents choose. This bill and the effort to increase access to higher education should be supported. Florida’s students are depending on it.

Downloadable Resources

There are no attachments currently.
No items found.