Texas high school seniors required by law to complete FAFSA form

The cost of college continues to increase, but too often, financial aid officials say, students fail to tap into existing resources, resulting in money left on the table. A new state law could help.

Included in House Bill 3, which focused on school finance reform, is a requirement that all high school students submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid-or FAFSA-form prior to graduating. Students will also have the option of filling out the Texas Application for State Financial Aid instead.

Those who choose not to apply for either federal or state aid must submit a waiver signed by a parent or school counselor. Sophomores who graduate in 2022 will be among the first classes in the state to fall under the new law.

A lot of people believe the biggest reason students are not going to college is costs, said Jerel Booker, assistant commissioner for college readiness and success with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

But students who apply for federal aid could become eligible for grants, scholarships, loans, study-abroad aid, work-study jobs or tax benefits. Many colleges and universities also use the completed form to determine the financial aid they will provide to students.

Louisiana was the first state to pass a similar law. It began with the graduating class of 2018. Louisiana officials said they have already seen benefits.

In 2018, the number of high school graduates in Louisiana who enrolled in college hit an all-time high of 25,083 students-increasing by about 1,500 graduates from the previous year, according to an email from Sydni Dunn, press secretary with the Louisiana Department of Education.

In Texas, an advisory committee will present plans to the state Legislature by January 2021 about tracking and enforcing the law.

"We have pretty good evidence that when students and their families are helped with completing the FAFSA-that by getting more grant aid, they are less likely to take out the larger amounts of debt," Booker said. "These types of policies have the potential to help students with their debt burden."

Liesbeth Powers contributed to this report.