Vargas Bill Requires Completing College Financial Aid Forms Before High School Graduation

State Rep. Andy Vargas delivered the commencement address to Northern Essex Community College's Class of 2018 on May 19, 2018. (Jay Saulnier photograph for WHAV News)

State Rep. Andy X. Vargas says fewer students are seeking help paying for college, increasing the gap between rich and poor.

Vargas of Haverhill is pushing for passage of a bill that would require students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid—known as FAFSA—before graduating from high school. He said he recently filed the bill, modeled after a similar mandate in Louisiana. The legislation was co-filed with the chair of the Black and Latino Caucus, Rep. Chynah Tyler.

“FAFSA played a critical role for me in going to college. We need to make sure our students aren’t leaving higher ed funding on the table and deferring their college dreams. Within one year, the state of Louisiana was able to close the FAFSA completion gap between high-and-low-income school districts by 87%. Within two years, the gap was completely closed. This bill accomplishes the same, while providing waivers to students in difficult circumstances,” Vargas said.

His office said the pandemic has furthered the gap in financial aid form completion rates, but the problem already existed. In Massachusetts, some school districts have seen as much as a 35% decrease in students applying for the FAFSA. The statement added, students from low-income districts are more likely to qualify for FAFSA financial support for college but are less likely to actually fill it out.

Northern Essex Community College President Lane A. Glenn backed the bill, saying, “We need to greatly improve the number of students completing the FAFSA, particularly for those students from low-income families and other marginalized groups, in order to ensure their future success and the economic success of Massachusetts.”

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