Short Take: Mandatory FAFSA (Plus Police Training)

For any parent of a high school senior going to college, the joys of FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, are swiftly learned. The questions include not only the inchoate college student’s information, but mom’s and dad’s as well. A lot of it. All kinds of financial and personal information of the sort they couldn’t get without a warrant. Some might even call it “intrusive.”

If you want student aid for your kid, which could mean tens of thousand of dollars, there isn’t much of a choice. Tell the government what it wants to know, or you get squat. Of course, you might get squat anyway, but you have to be in it to win it.

Texas is making FAFSA mandatory, joining Louisiana as the second state to do so.

Completing the form is a leading indicator of college enrollment. And there’s ample evidence that more financial aid is associated with outcomes like college completion. Actually achieving big gains in FAFSA completion, though, requires significant investment and outreach by schools and state officials.

That nagging feeling is your brain saying, “but correlation doesn’t prove causation,” as if filling out FAFSA makes students go to college rather than the other way around. But hey, Louisiana does it, so how can Texas, which struggled with whether its history books should teach the exacting science of creationism?

The contention is that by filling out FAFSA, poor students learn of their eligibility for financial aid, which removes a barrier to going to college for those who don’t try because they don’t believe they can afford it. Fair enough. But couldn’t this be accomplished by public schools (the free ones mandated by the government) strongly informing and encouraging students to apply rather than mandating FAFSA applications upon pain of being denied a high school diploma?

They’re also already tasked with a number of compliance activities — students in the state must receive CPR instruction and training on how to interact with a police officer before graduating high school. Both requirements must be documented on a student’s transcript.

Not that there’s anything wrong with CPR instruction, and what student doesn’t benefit from being trained to say “Yes, Occifer” and keep your hands where they can see them as a Texas cop does a random digital probe for the sake of the children. But FAFSA is quite a different animal.

“We need a lot more students to get a postsecondary education,” said [president-elect of the Texas School Counselor Association Lesa] Pritchard. “If this will help, obviously we’re game for that.”

Do we? We need plumbers and electricians. Do we need a million more gender studies Ph.D.’s? Even if students learning of the availability of, and their eligibility for, student aid will increase the number of students getting a college education, making it mandatory for a student to reveal his parent’s, his siblings’, finances to the government is a significant cost.

Nowhere is this mentioned. No school official appears aware. Or perhaps they’re very well aware, but don’t want dad to know that they’re putting junior’s diploma up against his having to reveal all to the government. But “do it for the children” is good enough for Texas.

13 thoughts on “Short Take: Mandatory FAFSA (Plus Police Training)

    1. SHG Post author

      I don’t blame passionate young people for wanting to “make a difference,” even if they might not be quite as special as they’re certain they are. But they still have to eat.

  1. B. McLeod

    This isn’t going to work for everybody. Back when I was looking at college, my parents (who had never been to universities themselves) were not contributing to the cost. They weren’t against the idea, per se, but it was up to me to land the scholarships and save the money to make it possible. Even back then, however, a lot of universities just assumed they had open access to the pocketbooks of all students’ parents.

    I can recall in particular a letter from Harvard, in which their clever administrative staff had calculated how my parents (who had three other children as well) should be able to send me to their fine institution by putting a first and second mortgage on their home, and taking additional secured loans on both of their vehicles. Of course that didn’t happen, and I ended up attending the nearest, cheapest institution in my state’s university system, where I managed to cover the resident tuition with scholarships and earnings from welding and fast food jobs.

    States that decide to require this form of all students need to take into account that it is factually not within a student’s power to obtain the financial information of their parents (or siblings) absent the consent of the people whose information it is. Realistically, they are putting thousands of students in a posture where they can’t attend college (at least not in states that do this) if their family members won’t agree to provide the data for the forms.

    1. SHG Post author

      The perspective of the college admin financial folks as to the value of college and how people should pay for it occasionally seems a bit skewed. It could have something to do with their perspective. It could have something to do with their next salary increase. Who’s to say?

      1. LocoYokel

        An additional concern would be “What about those in the foster system, or otherwise wards of the state, who provides this information for them?”.

        To many holes here, this combined with the passage of the law a couple of weeks ago making hearing a dirty joke a mandatory reporting event for all collage employees makes me very sad for the future of Texas.

        1. Casual Lurker

          Sorry to be the pedant, but while “Too many holes here” could be taken more than one way, depending on context, To many holes here…” evokes an entirely different connotation.

          Long, long ago, there were a group of Residents who would refer to their immediate supervisor, and his 17 golfing buddies from the administrative suite, as “the 18 holes”, and they weren’t talking golf.

          (Yes, I’m still catching up on the backlog).

  2. FC

    I live in Texas and found this alarming. But I was relieved to read that there are waiver options, e.g.,:
    “the student’s parent or other person standing in
    parental relation submits a signed form indicating that the parent
    or other person authorizes the student to decline to complete and
    submit the financial aid application”
    The full text of House Bill 3 is here:
    https://legiscan.com/TX/text/HB3/id/2027986
    and the relevant section is 2.015.

    1. SHG Post author

      Welcome to SJ, new person whose first comment violated the rules by including a link. Your comment was found in the spam folder. An inauspicious start. As the IHE article expressly said, there is a waiver option, but how many parents of students who aren’t otherwise inclined to complete the FAFSA are likely to read the test of the legislation to learn of it?

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s a high school graduation requirement. Even then, there’s a technical out (the waiver), even if people don’t know about it.

  3. mary

    Any child who was a Foster Child (ward of a state or territory) up to the age of 13 is NOT required to include parental income and assets on the FAFSA. Even if he/she was adopted at age 13 years and one day.

  4. Jesse

    As awareness that the college degree is irrelevant for the vast majority of workers has grown, politicians and their (usually) government-supplemented colleges and universities have become ever more strident in their determination that every kid needs and has a right to one. Colleges and universities are mostly a huge suck at the teat of the economy and a make-work program for professors and administrators. No wonder they want to pass laws designed to train kids to attend.

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