Another form to fill out doesn’t seem a very attractive notion to parents, who already have a lot of paperwork to do. But the state is adding to the paper pile with a mandate for seniors, to fill out the federal application for college financial aid.
About 35,000 seniors will have to file the form, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the melodiously nicknamed FAFSA. There’s a similar form for Louisiana aid programs from the state, the Louisiana Office for Student Financial Assistance, or LOSFA.
Most seniors already fill out the federal form, but a significant minority — about 15,000 a year — does not seek financial aid for college, probably because the students don’t have plans to go to college.
But the reality is that the job market is changing fast, and many of those not filling out the forms may find that they need courses at a community college or a technical school.
“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.”
The state’s idea is that as seniors find they are eligible for financial aid, they will seek the job training opportunities that will qualify them for skilled positions. The large majority of new positions in many businesses and industries now require education or technical training beyond high school. Not only federal aid, but some state TOPS scholarship awards are available.
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved the new policy requiring a student aid form for graduation. Parents, however, can opt out of filing any financial aid requests.
The federal form, as many parents can report, is not short and includes questions about family income. But filing the form and seeking federal aid can bring significant amounts of federal aid to the state, White said. The FAFSA form can be a bit of a bear, even for well-educated parents. We suspect that many families will need extra help filling out the form — assistance that typically comes from high school counselors and administrators, who are already overworked. That’s an important reality to keep in mind as this policy moves forward.
Will the new requirement work to encourage education beyond high school? We hope so, because the state’s prosperity depends on a better-educated workforce that can fill jobs demanding a higher level of technical expertise. Although the opt-out provision takes teeth out of this policy, the idea is to show a family — particularly a lower-income family — that aid is available to carry forward a child’s education beyond high school.
Louisiana seniors in the past could perhaps move directly into rewarding careers at a refinery or paper mill with only a high school diploma. With the growing complexity of industrial facilities and increasing requirements for all sorts of occupations, the likelihood is that some kind of commercial certification or other training will be needed. This paperwork nudge toward federal aid could make a difference in qualifying young men and women for the workforce of today.