The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has approved a new policy that will require high school seniors in the state to apply for college financial aid, or sign a form stating that they will not apply, in order to obtain a high school diploma.
The policy was approved last week by the board, making the state the first in the country to have such a requirement. Of the roughly 35,000 high school seniors in the state, around 15,000 do not apply for aid.
"We have two problems," said state Superintendent of Education John White. "First, we are leaving tens of millions of dollars every year because we are not applying for financial aid that will fund not just universities but community colleges and technical training. That problem is compounded by the fact that it is really the kids that need the aid the most that are applying the least."
Beginning in 2018, students will need to apply for financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or through the Louisiana Office for Student Financial Assistance as a requirement for graduation. If they do not wish to apply for financial aid, a form will need to be submitted along with a parent's signature stating that they are choosing to opt out.
FAFSA applications offer students eligibility for a variety of federal assistance, including Pell Grants, work-study programs and student loans, which includes technical training. In addition, they can be used as applications for TOPS, giving students state assistance for tuition and other fees. State aid is offered through LOFSA applications.
According to Sean Wilson, head of the International High School of New Orleans, the applications scare some kids off, possibly because of the questions pertaining to family income. He added that many believe they will not be able to afford the student loans they may accrue throughout their college years.
However, most students do qualify for some form of student loan, especially in Louisiana, which ranks 44th in the nation according to average household income in 2013, and 49th when looking at the number of residents who live below the poverty line.
An exact amount of how much money is being missed out on by students is not known, partially because the loan amount is determined by each family's financial situation. However, if the state were able to get more students to apply, board officials say more money could be offered to students, which in turn would offer more help for the state, reports Wynton Yates for WWL TV.
BESE Vice President Jim Garver said that if the number of students who applied for student loans were to reach the national average of a 55% completion rate, an extra $50 million of federal assistance could be brought into Louisiana.
The completion rate in the state for the 2012-13 school year was 50%, although once non-public schools were removed it fell to 44%.