INDIANAPOLIS — High school seniors may soon be required to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) under Senate Bill 223, which is now before the House Education Committee.
The committee met in the House chamber on Wednesday to discuss whether filing the FAFSA form should be mandatory. FAFSA is an online document where families provide financial data that is used when students apply for college aid, including grants, scholarships, work-study jobs and loans.
Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, told the committee that she authored SB 223 because only 58% of Indiana high school students fill out the FAFSA, while it is as high as 80% in other states.
If she had been asked two years ago, Leising said she most likely would have not sponsored the bill. But last year when her oldest granddaughter was filling out the FAFSA, she realized how beneficial it was to her in getting scholarships.
After seeing how much it could help Hoosier families as they send their students off to college, Leising decided to author SB 223.
“The bill basically says that you will apply, your parents or family will apply,” she said. “If the family for some reason decides not to, the principal can waive that requirement. We’re giving kids and families the opportunity for assistance that I think will be well received no matter their income.”
Leising also noted that there are exceptions in the bill. Students from certain nonpublic schools, a parent of a student, an emancipated minor or the principal of the student’s school can all waive the requirement because of extenuating circumstances.
Lisa Tansel, general council for the Indiana School Boards Association, said her members understand the benefits for students and parents for completing this application, but they still oppose it because it places too much of a burden on school corporation officials.
“We have graduating classes of over 500 students and this bill is going to require the counselor, the principal to track down every student that doesn’t enter the data sharing agreement,” she said. “We are just concerned about this particular mandate on public school officials.”
She said much of the conversation about the bill has been to get parents and students informed of how helpful the FAFSA can be, but most schools are already doing that, therefore it would not be fair to add this extra task.
John Garrison, representing the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, disagreed with Tansel’s argument and testified in support of the bill.
Garrison said that the commission passed a data share agreement requirement last year that provides every school with a list of all of the students who have or have not filed the FAFSA.
“What they do is log onto our system, click on three buttons and they get a full list of every single student in school and if they filled out the FAFSA or not,” he said. “The commission did this to avoid the burden of putting the issue on counselors scattering to chase down students who have not yet filled out the form.”
Garrison also noted that that while this bill does technically require the FAFSA, anyone who does not want to share their information does not have to since there are ways to opt out. He said the commission understands that filing is a personal choice that not all should be forced to.
The committee did not vote on the bill and has yet to set a date on when it will be heard again.