Texas is set to become the second state in the country to require high school students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) before they graduate, an effort intended to boost college enrollment and completion.
While several states have looked at making the FAFSA mandatory for high schoolers, Louisiana is the only other state to have done so. It enacted the requirement last year, with much success. FAFSA completion among the state’s high school students increased by more than 25 percent, reaching 78.7 percent (the requirement allows for students to obtain waivers in certain situations). Louisiana ranked first among all U.S. states for FAFSA completion this past financial aid cycle.
Success in Texas may hinge on investment, outreach
However, the success in Louisiana may not necessarily translate to similar outcomes in Texas, which will implement the requirement in 2020-21. “As the forerunner of this kind of policy, the early successes that Louisiana has seen with mandatory FAFSA has to be encouraging for other states,” Bill DeBaun, director of data and evaluation at the National College Access Network, told Inside Higher Ed. “We shouldn’t assume Texas will see the same effects Louisiana did. But given the scale of the state, even a modest effect could make a big splash on the FAFSA completion cycle.”
Financial aid experts suggest that, for Texas’s requirement to have maximum impact, schools and state officials must assist students in completing the notoriously unwieldy FAFSA. Louisiana had structures in place, like automated phone messages that reminded students to complete the form, that played a critical role in FAFSA completion. These supports, backed by the Kresge Foundation, also included a peer mentoring program and incentives awarded to students who completed the form, such as vouchers for graduation caps and gowns.