Chandra Scott
Executive Director, Alabama Possible
As published by the Montgomery Advertiser

As of April 2, 2021, only 41.2% of high school seniors across the state of Alabama had completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a strong indicator of what postsecondary enrollment will look like in Fall 2021

Research reveals 92% of students who complete their FAFSA before graduating high school enroll in college the following fall, while only 51% of non-completers do. This should sound the alarm for all postsecondary leaders across our state.

Last week, the Alabama State Board of Education voted to add completion of the FAFSA as a high school graduation requirement in the state. The requirement will start with the graduating class of 2022, and it includes an opt-out provision for students and families. Alabama now joins three other states — Louisiana, Illinois and Texas — in having this requirement which will have a great impact on our postsecondary access and completion rates.

In order for our state to fulfill the governor’s goal of 500,000 highly skilled Alabamians with valuable postsecondary credentials by 2025, increasing FAFSA awareness and completion must be a key component. Making the FAFSA completion a high school graduation requirement is a strong step in the right direction.

Last month, Tamia Kemp, a student at Miles College, Amberly Jones, a student at State Community College, and Savannah Berryman, a student at Northwest-Shoals Community College all testified in support of the graduation requirement and shared their stories on how completing the FAFSA has afforded them a postsecondary education.

Jones, who lost her mother at a young age, shared how completing the FAFSA made the financial burden of a postsecondary education lighter for her father. Kemp shared how completing the FAFSA opened the door to other scholarships decreasing her out of pocket cost. And, Berryman expressed thanks for the many opportunities and leadership roles she has been afforded because someone encouraged her to complete the FAFSA, which resulted in her becoming a work study student in the Career Center. Her work study position has expanded her leadership skills and now she is a sophomore and a member of Phi Theta Kappa.

Completing the FAFSA is measured by so much more than a completion rate. It is measured by the success and opportunities it affords students across our state as it removes barriers to prosperity.

There was some opposition raised against the policy, including concerns that it would be an unfunded mandate. Now that the law has passed, we must make sure that schools and families are provided with the resources to fulfill the requirement. School counselors have a lot on their plate and have been even more burdened during the pandemic. Families and students are struggling to make ends meet and balancing even more than normal as we deal with a health and economic crisis. Funding must follow this critical new policy to make sure that schools can provide the needed supports to students and families to make sure that those who will benefit most will be able to fulfill the graduation requirement and complete the FAFSA. That will open up new windows of opportunities for all of Alabama’s students.

I challenge all Alabamians to remember this is not about big government or privacy invasion. This is about giving every student a pathway beyond high school. Many students and families don’t engage in conversations around education after high school because of financial constraints. This policy will give families across our state hope.

Equitable access to postsecondary education is not only an economic imperative, but a moral imperative and is a strategy to gaining 500,000 highly-skilled employees in our workforce by 2025. I call on our local, state and federal leaders to financially support these efforts and support our schools, students and families in completing the FAFSA.