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Louisiana Requires All Students to Apply for Financial Aid

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In order to graduate from high school, all seniors in public schools in Louisiana will have to apply for financial aid to college. That's the requirement of a new policy approved by the state's board of education.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved the new policy at its Dec. 1 meeting, according to The New Orleans Advocate. It will affect each year's public school graduating class, beginning with the class of 2018.

The Education Commission of the States, which tracks state policies on key K-12 issues, said it does not know of another state that has required its students to apply for financial aid in order to graduate from high school.

The Louisiana policy permits students to opt out of completing applications for financial aid by submitting a form signed by one of their parents.

About 56 percent of Louisiana's public school seniors don't apply for financial aid each year, according to a report prepared for the board meeting. And state superintendent John White told the board that the students who are most in need of the money are the ones that fail to take steps to get it. 

The low application rates cost students opportunity, but they also cost colleges and universities tens of millions of dollars in support, he told the board.

If the state raised the share of students who applied for aid to the national average, about 55 percent, it could generate about $54 million in state and federal aid that could flow to higher education systems, according to the FAFSA analysis the board considered.

Students can meet the financial-aid requirement by submitting forms to a state office that helps them with federal aid, as well as state scholarships and other assistance, or they can submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA. The federal application allows students to be considered for assistance such as Pell grants, work-study programs, and student loans.

Research has shown that failure to complete financial-aid forms is one of the most powerful stumbling blocks on the road to college. But even though the FAFSA has been simplified several times over the last few years, students can easily feel anxious about filling out the forms, which seek detailed family financial information.

For that reason, the state plans to offer grants to school districts so they can get help from organizations that support schools in helping students complete the forms, according to The Advocate.

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Related story:

Financial Aid Professionals Propose Three Paths for FAFSA Reform


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