Essay How a Mandatory FAFSA Completion Policy in Texas Could Improve College Access
An Essay for the Learning Curve
Sie Won Kim
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For many high school students, federal student aid provided through Pell grants, work study, and loans can offer students with low incomes an avenue toward receiving a postsecondary education. But to be eligible for federal student aid, students need to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Many students who could benefit from federal aid often neglect to submit a FAFSA form because of various barriers, including a lack of awareness about different financial aid options, a lack of understanding about the eligibility requirements, and the FAFSA form’s complexity.

Despite FAFSA’s potential to promote access to postsecondary education, the national FAFSA completion rate was just 52.1 percent for the high school class of 2022. To increase FAFSA completion rates, Texas, following Louisiana and Illinois, implemented a mandatory FAFSA completion policy as a graduation requirement beginning in the 2021–22 school year. Under the policy, high school seniors must complete and submit either a FAFSA form, a Texas Application for State Financial Aid form, or an opt-out form before they can graduate. With other states in the planning stages for implementing similar policies, analyzing results from Texas can offer key insights on best practices when introducing their own policies.

Key Findings

Using data from 2018 through 2022 in Texas, findings show the following:

  • The FAFSA submission rate during the 2021–22 school year increased to 73 percent from an average of 62 percent over the previous three years.
  • After the policy implementation, schools with the largest shares of students living in povertyshowed the largest completion rate increases.
  • Schools where between 13.3 and 23.0 percent of students live in poverty showed that fewer students submit FAFSA applications than the lowest-poverty schools.
  • Schools with the highest shares of Black and Hispanic students have the highest submission and completion rates before and after the policy implementation, and these schools experienced the largest increases in application rates after implementation.
  • The schools with relatively high shares of Black and Hispanic students (between 56.0 and 86.1 percent of students) have FAFSA submission rates similar to those at schools with lower shares of Black and Hispanic students.


Increased FAFSA completion rates provide early evidence for bolstering college enrollment among students living in poverty and Black and Hispanic students. Although the college enrollment data from fall 2022 are not yet available, the positive correlation between the number of FAFSA applications and Texas high school graduates’ enrollment in higher education indicates an expected increase in college enrollment for 2022–23.

These findings also suggest that although completion rates have increased across the board, certain schools will need more support in addition to the toolkits and resources currently provided by the Texas Education Agency. Beyond the current resources and information, the Texas Education Agency can target certain school districts (e.g., districts with low incomes or low application rates) and provide tailored support. The state agency can also consider establishing continued support for FAFSA completion after high school, which would provide students help in renewing their financial support and aid in college persistence.

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Additional Resources

Tags Higher education Paying for college
Policy Centers Center on Education Data and Policy
States Texas