Louisiana’s estimated 40,000 public high school seniors in the Class of 2018 won’t be allowed to graduate without completing a new BESE requirement. (
It’s not a required course or an exam, but Louisiana’s estimated 40,000 public high school seniors won’t be allowed to graduate without completing it.
"It" is the FAFSA – the free application for federal student aid – and the graduating class of 2018 is the first to be affected by the policy approved by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2015.
The form is used to determine student eligibility for financial aid, such as Pell grants, work study programs and federal student loans.
BESE, the governing and policymaking board for K-12 public schools, tethered completion of the federal application as a requirement for getting a high school diploma because of the historically low number of Louisiana students using the form. The state department of education officials said when students didn’t fill out the form, it created unnecessary financial barriers to postsecondary schools or training.
"We wanted to ensure equitable access to all students," state education department spokeswoman Sydni Dunn said. "Too few students take advantage of state and federal aid."
Although the state’s number of submissions is improving, Louisiana’s rank near the bottom among states for submission of the FAFSA form was the impetus for the policy two years ago, Dunn said. The amount of money left on the table is "staggering," she said.
"By not completing the FAFSA, Louisiana students forego millions of dollars each year in federal grants, state opportunities and other post-secondary funding," Dunn said. "This year, for example, it is estimated the 25 percent of students who did not submit the FAFSA, to date, may be missing out on more than $150 million in aid."
The deadline for completing the form is set by local school districts, Dunn said. Students can opt out of the requirement, but must complete a state waiver, she said. Applying for a TOPS awards also satisfies the requirement.
School officials have taken various approaches in getting the word out about the new graduation requirement, including holding financial aid weekend workshops and informal information nights in which state and local financial aid experts are available to answer questions and help fill out forms.
In Jefferson Parish, for example, the district created a "Next Step" campaign that includes a checklist of items for seniors to complete. The district started the campaign last year in anticipation of the new graduation policy, said Germaine Gilson, chief of staff for Jefferson public schools.
"When you do your Next Step checklist, you are basically saying what you intend to do after high school," said Germaine Gilson, chief of staff for Jefferson public schools. "Are you going to enlist in the military, enter the workforce, enroll in a two-year college, enroll in a four-year university. From there, counselors are able to make sure you are directed with what’s needed to be successful in whatever your next step is going to be."
In addition to financial aid planning sessions facilitated by school counselors, a public service announcement during home football games is one method used by school officials in St. Charles Parish to remind high schoolers and parents about the new graduation requirement.
"Some parents may not go to a website, or read the bulletins sent home… but they might go to a football game," said Jerry Smith, executive director of student services. "I’m just trying to capture every opportunity to get the word out."
School officials in St. John the Baptist Parish spent October hosting career fairs, financial aid workshops and helping parents and students create online federal student aid IDs. Their efforts culminated in a joint event with the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance called College Application Access Day, in which students filled out applications for universities, colleges, jobs and the military.
"We knew this would be a great event at our high schools," said Jenna Chiasson, St. John’s director of school improvement said in a news release about the event. "Our goal is to not only prepare our students academically for life after high school but to open those doors and to truly make college accessible."
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