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Should Applying for College Financial Aid Be a High School Requirement?

Courtney Lee September 19, 2019
photo - diverse group of high school students in a library

A majority (58%) of Californians consider affordability at the state’s public colleges and universities a big problem, according to a 2018 PPIC Statewide Survey. Requiring all high school students to apply for financial aid could help more students pay for college.

Currently, around 60% of high school students in California complete the federal application for financial aid (FAFSA)—a student’s gateway to receiving federal grants and loans, as well as state aid. The remainder of students are unlikely to receive aid, even though there’s evidence that many of them would probably have qualified.

Requiring students to apply for aid may result in greater numbers of high school graduates enrolling in college, which could increase California’s college-going rate of 64% (2017–18). Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in the California Legislature that would require students to complete a financial aid application before graduating from high school.

Louisiana was the first state to have such a requirement, starting in 2017–18. The state saw FAFSA completion rates increase from 48% to 84% between 2015 and 2018, and college-going numbers increased by 12.6% (from 22,200 to 25,000) in the same time frame. Texas and Illinois are following suit, with the requirement taking effect in those states in fall 2019 and fall 2020, respectively.

California needs more college graduates to meet the increasing demand for highly skilled workers—and the proposed bill could make a difference if it increases access to college, especially for lower-income students. In addition, better financial support during college can reduce students’ debt load and might help more students complete their programs. Improved access to college and higher graduation rates would set more students up for success in the workforce and benefit the state’s economy.

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