High School Seniors missing out on federal aid – SB 54 addresses FAFSA

From State Senator Jean Leising
As a member of the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development, I have learned that Indiana students who are seeking a post-secondary education are missing out on more than $70 million of federal funds by not completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). 

The FAFSA is an annual form students complete that determines their eligibility for federal grants, private scholarships, work-studies and loans. Students complete the form prior to their first semester of college and complete it again every academic year thereafter.

As of Jan. 18, there has been a 22% decline in FAFSA filing in Indiana, with 40% of that number made up of high school seniors with the greatest financial need. Indiana currently ranks 34th in the nation for FAFSA completion. 

To address this decline and to ensure students can make a more informed decision on higher education based on the financial aid available to them, I authored Senate Bill 54. SB 54 would require all students in their senior year, except students at certain nonpublic schools, to complete and submit the FAFSA. If one of the student’s parents, or the student if they are an emancipated minor, signs a waiver that the student understands what the FAFSA is and declines to complete it, they would be exempted from this requirement. The principal or guidance counselor of the student’s high school may also waive the requirement due to extenuating circumstances. 

Similar legislation has been enacted in other states who are now leading the nation in FAFSA filing. While I am a firm believer that college is not the right fit for everyone, I also believe that it is important to have all relevant information collected prior to making a decision – especially a decision that has such an impact on one’s life. 

For those who may be interested in pursuing education outside of college, the new Workforce Ready Grant Program is available at no cost to students. This program requires FAFSA completion for participation and offers certification opportunities in advanced manufacturing, building and construction, health sciences, IT and business services and transportation and logistics services.

While some may have decided against filling out the FAFSA with the assumption they wouldn’t be eligible or because the form took too long to complete, the most recent COVID-19 relief bill passed by Congress included provisions that made the FAFSA form easier to complete, shortening it to just 40 questions. 

I strongly encourage high school seniors and those who are considering a post-secondary degree to complete and file their FAFSA. Again, there is no cost to complete the form, and those who are eligible are able to accept or decline their financial award. 

SB 54 recently passed the full Senate with a bipartisan vote. It will now move to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

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