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Michigan NewsMichigan Democrat files bill that would impact all high school students and...

Michigan Democrat files bill that would impact all high school students and their parents in the future

Michigan – In Michigan, a new bill says high school students must fill out a form for federal financial aid to graduate. This plan aims to make it easier for students to think about going to college. Michigan would join around a dozen other states that already require this. Some other states are thinking about doing the same.

What is FAFSA form and how it can help Michigan students

The form, called the FAFSA, checks if students can get federal money, work programs, or loans for college. It sometimes helps figure out if they can get state or private help, or special programs for low-income families at big universities in Michigan. State Senator Darrin Camilleri, a Democrat from Trenton, put forward the bill. He wants students to know more about their options after high school.

New Michigan bill aims to help students with requiring them to fill in FAFSA joining more than 10 other states with similar policy

In 2023, only about half of the seniors in Michigan’s high schools filled out the FAFSA. This is not new. Camilleri pointed out that students in Michigan miss out on nearly $100 million in federal aid every year because they don’t fill out this form. He shared this during a meeting in October.

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Some people are worried about the bill. They think the FAFSA could force families to share private financial or personal details. Or they might have to share these details to get out of this new rule. The bill has been changed a bit to deal with these worries.

Some people argue that this requirement would mean extra work for college advisors who have to help students with the process. The online form can be tricky. It often needs students, their parents, or others who might pay for their education to create their own accounts and logins, and fill out different parts of the form.

The federal government tried to simplify things by introducing a new FAFSA form with fewer questions. This was meant to make everything easier. However, since its initial release on December 31, there have been a lot of tech problems, showing that the changes haven’t worked out as well as expected.

“I’ve spoken to colleagues who have their own kids who are seniors and are filling out FAFSA this year,” said Wendy Zdeb, executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. “They thought the form would be easier this year, and they have found that not to be true. It took them a lot more time, and these are people who are already familiar with the process.”

The bill is expected to help students especially in low-income and minority families

Onjila Odeneal, a top policy and advocacy director in Michigan for the Institute for College Access and Success, believes this bill will encourage many students, especially from low-income and minority backgrounds, to see college as achievable.

Odeneal pointed out that many kids don’t fill out the FAFSA because they think college is out of reach for them. She stressed the importance of them knowing about the help they can get.

By completing the FAFSA, students can access various grants and funding from Michigan universities. For example, the University of Michigan offers tuition discount programs and the Go Blue Guarantee, while Michigan State University has the Spartan Tuition Advantage.

This form is also necessary for students to get money from two major state programs. The Michigan Achievement Scholarship offers up to $5,500 per year for eligible students to attend a public university in the state, $4,000 for independent nonprofit colleges, $2,750 for community colleges, or $2,000 for career training programs. Michigan Reconnect provides free tuition at local community colleges for students aged 21 and over.

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In states where filling out the FAFSA is mandatory, there’s been a big jump in the number of high school seniors completing it. For instance, in Texas, the rate increased from about 50% to 63%. A 2020 study by the Century Foundation in Louisiana showed that this requirement helped make FAFSA completion more equal across school districts, regardless of whether they were in wealthy or poor areas.

Yet, the study also uncovered that there are still gaps in information and other challenges for students applying for aid. Districts with more students of color and from low-income families often submitted applications with missing information. Students learning English found the form hard to understand, and those without legal immigration status had trouble because they didn’t have Social Security numbers.

There’s concern, like from Zdeb of the principals group, that this law might send mixed messages about the value of going to trade and technical schools instead of four-year colleges. Zdeb thinks it might contradict efforts to make these alternative paths more accepted.

However, Camilleri, the bill’s sponsor, believes the bill would still benefit students going into trade and technical schools. He points out that the FAFSA is also used for figuring out if students are eligible for federal Pell grants, which can be used at some of these schools.

FAFSA requirement waivers

The proposed bill in Michigan mandates that all public high school students, starting with the Class of 2026, submit a FAFSA form to the U.S. Department of Education, with exceptions allowed through waivers. These waivers can be obtained by parents for their children, students aged 18 or older, emancipated youth, homeless youth, or in cases where parents are unable or unwilling to complete their part of the form.

The newly established Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential is tasked with creating FAFSA information packets for distribution in schools. However, school districts must fund the enforcement of this legislation, raising concerns about the adequacy of counselor resources, especially in rural areas. Michigan’s low counselor-to-student ratio and the current focus on student mental health and graduation are highlighted as challenges to implementing this new requirement. The bill aims to provide time for schools to address these issues by hiring more counselors before its enactment.

Privacy concerns and changes made to the bill

The latest version of the bill has been amended to address privacy concerns, particularly for vulnerable student groups. Organizations like the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center raised issues about the necessity for students and parents to disclose sensitive information, such as immigration status, to obtain a waiver from the FAFSA submission requirement. These concerns led to revisions that involve community partners in developing the waiver form and allow students to opt out for privacy reasons.

This is especially crucial for immigrant and LGBTQ+ students, victims of child abuse and neglect, and other vulnerable groups who might be unable or unwilling to disclose certain details for a waiver. Additionally, the bill now requires school districts to ensure language accessibility for families with limited English proficiency during the FAFSA submission and opt-out processes, including translating materials into the families’ native languages.