Sen. Gounardes to Chalkbeat: "Universal FAFSA Access Will Help More Low-Income Students Attend College"

Andrew Gounardes

Originally published in Chalkbeat NY on .
A picture of a "college success" graphic on the wall of a school.

T’Kai Harvey, a sophomore at the City University of New York’s Hunter College, didn’t see college as an option for most of her life.

“I come from a very low-income community in the Bronx,” she said. “So I wasn’t going to go to college and financially burden my family.”

But in her senior year of high school, Harvey learned about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, through her school, working with a counselor at her school who helped her complete the forms and secure the financial support she needed to fund her education.

Now, Harvey, along with other advocates and some lawmakers, is calling for a “universal FAFSA” law requiring all high school students to complete a financial aid application or submit a waiver opting out by the time they graduate.

The push has gained some traction in Albany, where a proposed law seeking to establish the requirement could be included in the state budget expected later this week. Gov. Kathy Hochul included a universal FAFSA policy in her budget proposal earlier this year, and on Monday, Hochul announced her administration would send letters to high school seniors with tips on completing the FAFSA, while urging principals to ensure students have the resources they need to access financial aid.

But some school districts have expressed concerns about taking on the added responsibility without additional resources, complicating the ongoing negotiations.

To Harvey, the proposed law is critical because she saw peers at other schools who were never informed about the FAFSA and missed out on significant financial aid as a result.

“I know I could have been one of the kids that didn’t have the opportunity to go to college, had I not been told,” said Harvey, a student advocate with uAspire, an organization that advocates for college access for students from underrepresented communities. “There’s a lot of federal aid that gets left behind because students aren’t filling it out.”

Calls for Universal FAFSA in New York follow the adoption of the policy in several other states. They come as recent data has shown local students losing out significant federal funding and as the fumbled rollout of a new version of the federal form this year has spurred headaches for students and counselors across the country.

In 2023, graduating students missed out on more than $225 million in potential Pell Grants by not completing the FAFSA, according to an analysis by the National College Attainment Network. And studies have shown students who complete the FAFSA are far more likely to attend college.

“So many students don’t even fill out the FAFSA, and as a result, they don’t even consider the possibility of pursuing higher education, because they think it’s out of reach,” said state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, a sponsor of the bill. “The data that we saw in NY: Leaving $200 million on the table in eligible financial aid grants … That is a staggering number.”

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