- Barrye Bailey, Education Program Consultant, Office of Career and College Readiness, Louisiana Department of Education
- Ebony Holmes, Director of Public Information & Advising, Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance
- Chandra Scott, Executive Director, Alabama Possible
- Manisha Misha, Deputy Director, Alabama Possible
- Greg Harrell, Director of Legislation & Program Implementation, Indiana Commission for Higher Education
FCAN Host: Deborah Martin, Policy Analyst
Over 10 states have adopted a universal FAFSA policy for their graduating high school seniors. Florida has not yet adopted such a policy, resulting in continuous high school graduating classes missing out on over $300 million in Pell Grants every year. FCAN continues to advocate for this policy as data shows 90% of students who complete the FAFSA are more likely to enroll in college directly from high school.
On August 22, FCAN hosted a webinar highlighting examples of this policy adoption and implementation in Louisiana, Alabama, and Indiana.
The first state – Louisiana Department of Education and Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA)
Louisiana was the first state to pass a universal FAFSA policy, which took effect during the 2017-2018 academic year. Louisiana high school students knew they wanted to go to college but the FAFSA presented a road block for many. In 2014, the Louisiana Department of Education created a financial aid working group to evaluate their state’s financial aid completion rates and identify solutions.
Barrye Bailey, Education Program Consultant for Louisiana Department of Education, described the makeup of the working group, vastly made up of broad groups throughout the state. “We looked at everyone that would have a stake in this. We had LOSFA at the table, Department of Revenue, Department of Juvenile Justice, superintendents, teachers’ associations, counselors’ association, community partners…to help us figure out what to bring to the table.”
After the findings of the working group, which still meets today, Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) approved a policy centered around postsecondary planning for their high school seniors. In order to increase access to state and federal financial aid, their seniors must do one of the following: complete the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) application or the FAFSA, declare a hardship through a waiver, or submit a parental opt-out waiver to their local school system.
Ebony Holmes, Director of Public Information & Advising for LOSFA, described the efforts on their FAFSA Now Campaign. Outreach efforts to urge students to complete the FAFSA include the LOSFA FAFSA lab, virtual office, a texting platform (“Text 50056”), and FAFSA FSA ID workshops.
“We also have partnerships with a lot of other organizations in the community: postsecondary institutions, we work closely with our counselors.” Holmes emphasizes the need and importance of strong partnerships in order to successfully administer these initiatives to encourage and assist their students in filling out the FAFSA.
LOSFA also has a FAFSA Completion Project where their school boards, charter schools, and other non-public schools can enter a data-sharing agreement on FAFSA completion numbers. School boards and schools receive student-level data to know which students to follow up with and all data is exchanged and handled securely.
A rapid implementation timeline – Alabama Possible
Chandra Scott, Executive Director, and Manisha Mishra, Deputy Director, from Alabama Possible joined the panel to discuss this policy change in their state, specifically highlighting some of the work done given the rapid implementation period. Alabama has made universal FAFSA effective since the 2021-2022 academic year.
“Our advocacy is vast, not just around FAFSA, but how to remove barriers to financial access to be able to continue down a postsecondary pathway”, said Scott. Upon breaking down their advocacy strategy to pass this policy, Scott credits the push to include student voice in the narrative. During this time, they also began comparing FAFSA completion rates across years. The completion rate for the class of 2020was 3.05% lower than the completion rate for the 2019 class.
Alabama Possible also worked to connect the need for increasing FAFSA completion rates to their statewide attainment goal. Currently, only 45% of Alabama’s workforce has a high-value credential beyond a high school diploma. In order to meet their workforce needs and attainment goal, Alabama must add over 500,000 highly skilled workers by 2025.
Before their policy adoption, Alabama ranked 32nd in the nation for FAFSA completion (class of 2021). Since their adoption, Alabama has landed in the top ten for completion for the past two years.
Newly adopted – Indiana Commission for Higher Education
Indiana is one of the newer states that have passed this policy and are now in their implementation phase, as it will apply for students starting with the 2024-2025 school year. In Indiana, the Commission for Higher Education has an outreach team in place dedicated to help students and families fill out the FAFSA and provide community support efforts. However, year after year, completion rates continued to fall below the Commission’s goals.
Most recently, the class of 2022 in Indiana left behind $70 million in Pell Grants. Prior to their 2023 legislative session, bills on passing this policy made some movement but ultimately never passed.
“We’ve been very intentional, we have opt-out provisions for those who don’t want to file”, said Greg Harrell, Director of Legislation & Program Implementation for Indiana Commission for Higher Education. Indiana’s opt-out scenarios include: a parent or emancipated student opting out or high schools themselves may waive this requirement for students after April 15 if two reasonable attempts have been made to contact the student and/or parent with no success. April 15 is Indiana’s priority deadline for financial aid.
To learn more about universal FAFSA adoption and implementation in these states, access FCAN’s brief on our advocacy for this policy change in Florida, or access the recording and download the presentation – take advantage of these resources: