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Texas to Make FAFSA Completion a Requirement for High School Students

Starting in the 2020-2021 school year, Texas will become the second state in the nation to require high school seniors to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to graduate. 

Following Louisiana’s lead, last month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 3 into law, allocating $11.6 billion in total school finance expenditures and making FAFSA completion a prerequisite for students to graduate from high school.   

Specifically, the new FAFSA requirement is laid out in Section 2.015 of the bill, which reads “Before graduating from high school, each student must complete and submit a free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) or a Texas application for state financial aid (TAFSA).”

The bill’s text also includes reporting and timeline requirements, in addition to calling for an advisory committee, composed of school administrators, counselors and stakeholders representing the interest of students, to “assist the agency in adopting rules … to implement this section and to develop recommendations for that purpose.”

In order to be eligible to receive all sources of federal financial aid for college, including Pell grants, federal student loans, placement into federal work-study programs and potential scholarships from additional institutions and organizations, it is essential for students to fill out a FAFSA, according to the Federal Student Aid website

Since implementing a similar policy in December 2015, Louisiana now ranks first in FAFSA completion among all states in the nation. Through June 28, the most recent financial aid cycle, 78.7 percent of Louisiana’s high school graduating class of 2019 filled it out, according to data from the National College Access Network (NCAN). 

Texan students have three options to opt out of the new requirement, including if their parent of guardian submits a signed form opting them out, if the student themselves is 18 or older and chooses not to participate, or if a school counselor allows a student to refrain “for good cause.” 

Although students can technically opt out, policymakers hope the move will increase the number of students receiving financial support for college, and furthermore, boost overall postsecondary enrollment and attainment numbers throughout the state.

“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 NCAN, 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.”

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