Will New York start requiring students to fill out the FAFSA form?

Some state lawmakers say it’ll help more low-income students attend college.

Some New York lawmakers want to require the FAFSA form.

Some New York lawmakers want to require the FAFSA form. Richard Stephen/Getty Images

A budget proposal guaranteeing high schoolers in New York complete forms for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and state Tuition Assistance Program has support as budget negotiations near a close. But there's a catch. Proposed mandates tied to some versions of the plan have school districts and teachers concerned that too much of a burden would be placed on high schools to assist students with the forms, leading them to support a less aggressive version filtering through the Assembly.

One version of the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Andrew Gounardes and Assembly Member Jonathan Jacobson, requires that high schools provide FAFSA and TAP forms to students before they graduate, as well as New York State Dream Act applications to undocumented students. Studies have shown students who fill out the forms are far more likely to attend college than those who don’t.

State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, who sponsors a version of the bill with more requirements for schools to help students complete the forms, said he wanted schools to feel flexible in how they enable more students to fill out FAFSA and TAP forms, so long as the result was more students receiving financial aid and attending college.

“We want to create this expectation that everyone should be doing this in a way that feels best for the school community, and for each individual student, and for each school district,” he said. 

No one has questioned that students having the forms is a good thing, but some question the method to get there and the capacity for schools to carry out the proposal. “As this rolls out, what are families anticipating districts will be able to do for them, and there’s general concern that there aren’t enough councilors now, and they’re spread thin, and issues around capacity are our concern,” said Robert Lowry, deputy director for advocacy, research and communications for the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

Assistance mandates for FAFSA or FAFSA waiver completion have proved a sticking point for educators, with the Assembly, state Senate and Gov. Kathy Hochul each proposing something different. Educators prefer the Assembly’s pitch of all of them, citing Hochul’s proposal’s requirement to give four presentations to students about financial aid and language that leaves the door open to expectations they have to help students complete the forms. They also balk at the idea that they would need to collect documentation from students and families that prove they completed the FAFSA application or a waiver. 

The Assembly’s proposal only asks for one presentation a year, shifts some of the onus to provide information onto the state’s Higher Education Service’s Corporation and doesn’t require schools to collect documentation from students or their families proving they completed the FAFSA or a waiver.

State University of New York officials say they would provide assistance throughout the process to ensure that schools aren’t overburdened. A spokesperson said in an email, “To oppose this proposal is equivalent to closing the door to college for students from low-income backgrounds and those who are the first in their families to pursue higher education.”

Despite trepidation from teachers unions and school districts, Jacobson thinks the bill is a no-brainer.

“We shouldn’t have another generation of students, or another year, leaving over $200 million of financial aid on the table,” said Jacobson. “It’s very simple here, the biggest obstacle to going to college is the cost. The way to cut down the cost is to have grants and scholarships. The way you get grants and scholarships is you have to first fill out the FAFSA.”

Districts, he added, can find a way to provide the forms and supplemental information in a way that works for them. 

“I think that school districts can be creative and they can figure out how to do this, some school districts do it already,” said Jacobson. “If Louisiana can require it, I think so can New York.