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Will higher FAFSA (College Financial Aid form) completion mean more Hoosier students go to college? Officials hope so

Students from George Washington University wear their graduation gowns outside of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 18, 2022. - US Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA) is expected to meet with President Biden to push for student loan forgiveness. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds / AFP) (Photo by STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

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INDIANAPOLIS (Chalkbeat) — As higher education battles low enrollment and perceptions that it is too expensive, lawmakers and others are working to make sure more Indiana students know about the financial aid available to them. 

In mid-February, lawmakers advanced a bill that would require most students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, (commonly known as the FAFSA). 

The legislation highlights arguments from public officials that millions of dollars in aid is being left on the table, money that could change a student’s decision about postsecondary education.

A new survey released in February by the Indiana Department of Education shows that roughly 70% of high schoolers in Indiana plan to pursue education after high school.

But just 53% of students in Indiana’s Class of 2020 went on to college, state data released last summer showed. And only 27% of parents say it’s affordable, per the new survey.

Filling out the FAFSA would show Hoosier students and families that more aid options and potentially change that, in turn, improve Indiana’s college going rate, leaders argue.

As of Feb. 10, roughly a third of Indiana’s Class of 2023 had completed the FAFSA, per Form Your Future, a national tracker of FAFSA completion

Students need to fill out the FAFSA to be considered for federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants. But the form is also used by many states and colleges as well as private aid providers to determine eligibility for state and school grants, scholarships, and more. 

In Indiana, the deadline to file the FAFSA for state aid is April 15.

Senate Bill 167 would require all students, with certain exceptions like for those at some nonpublic schools and for students whose parents sign a waiver, to complete the FAFSA by that state deadline during their senior year. The Indiana Senate passed the bill earlier this week and it now awaits action from the Indiana House. 

Despite strong interest in education after high school, many Hoosiers are uncomfortable with the financial aid process.

Nearly 90% of Hoosiers see a value in education beyond high school, but 62% say understanding the process of paying for college is not easy, per survey results released earlier this month by INvestED, a nonprofit that provides free financial aid advising to students and families. And of people who don’t enroll, 28% said it was because of the cost. 

When it comes to FAFSA, families and students are often worried that they are on the hook for student loans just by filling out the form, or that they make too much money or it’s too difficult to fill out, he said. 

But the FAFSA doesn’t require people to take out loans and is a way for many people to qualify for aid beyond what’s earmarked for students from low-income backgrounds.

MJ Slaby oversees Chalkbeat Indiana’s coverage as bureau chief and covers higher education. Contact MJ at Chalkbeat Indiana partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.