ICYMI: SUNY Chancellor King and NYS Senator Gounardes Write an Op-Ed for the New York Daily News, “High Schoolers Must Seek College Aid: Make the FAFSA Form Required for all N.Y. Seniors”

December 28, 2023

Albany, NY – In an op-ed published today by the New York Daily News, State University of New York Chancellor John B. King, Jr., and New York State Senator Andrew Gounardes provide insight on why New York should make completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) universal.

Read the opinion piece, which is linked here.

High Schoolers Must Seek College Aid: Make the FAFSA Form Required for all N.Y. Seniors

How many high school graduates have chosen not to attend college because they think they can’t afford it? And how many attend, but pay full price, though they’d be eligible for free or reduced tuition?

If the answer were even just one student, that would be a waste and a shame — but the true number is undoubtedly much higher.

When your understanding of college financing is that a degree will put you tens of thousands of dollars into student loan debt and you don’t realize a college degree will — on average — translate into a $1 million of additional earnings over a lifetime, it’s understandable that students may immediately dismiss pursuing higher education. But what far too many students and their families don’t know is that we have 64 high-quality colleges and universities in our SUNY system where more than half of students don’t pay a single penny of tuition.

Students who need help to pay for college discover whether they qualify for federal Pell grants and state TAP aid, and then arrange for those awards to pay their tuition, by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). But students who never fill out the FAFSA, and thus never discover their eligible aid, can’t make an informed decision about whether to continue their education.

Studies show 90% of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA go to college directly after graduation, compared to just 55% of seniors who do not complete the FAFSA. And even more notably, for high school students in the lowest socioeconomic quintile, FAFSA completion is correlated with a 127% increase in immediate post-secondary enrollment. Or, in other words: for high school seniors in the bottom 20% of household wealth, completing the FAFSA made it more than twice as likely they’d be in college the following fall.

In short, when more students fill out the FAFSA, more students attend college — because they’ve learned they can attend college for free.

The redesigned and streamlined FAFSA form becomes available this Sunday, Dec. 31, but the FAFSA completion rate among New York State seniors has hovered a few points above 50% for the past several years. A recent report from Education Trust-New York, a nonprofit group advocating for equity in education, showed schools that enroll the largest shares of students from low-income backgrounds have a FAFSA completion rate 13% lower than other schools.

According to an analysis by the National College Attainment Network, the nation’s high school graduating class of 2022 left $3.6 billion in Pell grants unclaimed by not completing the FAFSA — and here in New York, a staggering $200 million also in federal aid was left unclaimed… in just one class of students. That’s money that would have changed lives, and we can’t keep letting that money go unclaimed. 

California, Illinois, Alabama, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, and Louisiana already require FAFSA completion. In Louisiana, FAFSA completion increased nearly 26% in the first year the requirement was in place, and in Texas, the submission rate increased from 62% to 73%.

There is currently a bill pending in the Legislature introduced by Sen. Gounardes and Assemblymember Jonathan Jacobson to have New York join these states in requiring FAFSA completion. Undocumented students would complete a New York State Dream Act application and families who don’t want to access the billions of dollars available in student aid could opt out. We should enact this bill into law to help our students access the financial support they need.

Of course, adding the requirement isn’t enough: we also need to ensure that students and their families have the tools they need to complete this form. By providing support to school districts and local community-based organizations to support FAFSA completion, including online and in-person multi-lingual support, training for guidance counselors, and technical assistance from campuses, our state can ensure that families understand each step they are taking in the application process.

Last year across New York more than 80,000 graduating seniors did not fill out the FAFSA, and the data tells us many of them would have qualified for free or greatly reduced cost college. The data also tells us many of these students are first-generation residents of this nation, would be the first in their families to attend college, and have racial, ethnic, economic and geographic characteristics that are woefully underrepresented at our nation’s colleges.

Increasing FAFSA completion by requiring it and supporting it means growing equity at every level. It also means showing prospective students a door to a prosperous future, showing them it’s unlocked… and putting them in position to fling that door open.

Gounardes is a state senator representing parts of Brooklyn. King is chancellor of the State University of New York.


About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the country’s oldest school of maritime, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2023, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunities, visit suny.edu.

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