On Aug. 17, 2021, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu signed Senate Bill 147 into law, requiring each high school student in the state to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as a prerequisite to receive a high school diploma. While the statute became effective immediately, the requirement won’t be effective until the 2023-24 academic year when the U.S. Department of Education implements a revised, shortened FAFSA.
The idea to launch a pilot program with public schools to lift FAFSA completion and college attendance rates emerged from participants in an Institute for Citizens and Scholars Fellows program and the New Hampshire Higher Education Assistance Foundation. The pilot will develop a financial literacy toolbox for schools and counseling staff. The process of filling out the FAFSA requires learning about federal income taxes and requires a basic understanding of personal finance. When a student receives their FAFSA results, they also will have the opportunity to learn about grants, scholarships, loans and other aid programs — and how to consider those options against the costs of attending various postsecondary institutions.
Requiring FAFSA completion as a condition of high school graduation is an education initiative within New Hampshire’s broader workforce development efforts. All states are challenged to develop qualified workforce pipelines that spur economic growth — New Hampshire is not alone in this regard. By filing the FAFSA, students can more carefully consider all their post-high school graduation options and make informed choices about whether to pursue postsecondary opportunities or immediately enter the workforce.
Not all students will choose to pursue postsecondary education immediately after high school. However, going through the process of applying for aid before graduation will help to prepare students to seek financial aid when they consider postsecondary education.
Like other states, New Hampshire included options for students to waive out of the process. The legislation does not intend to hold students back from receiving the high school diploma they have earned. Whether or not a student chooses to waive the process, all students stand to benefit from education about the FAFSA form.
As our state moves forward with implementing the new requirement in pilot schools prior to full implementation in 2023-24, our state leaders will be looking to learn more from our high school and postsecondary partners about best practices and policy refinements that may be needed. As policy leaders in education know all too well, there are no “silver bullets,” but rather continuous improvements in transitioning students into the state workforce. Our state views increasing FAFSA completion among New Hampshire high school seniors as one step toward improving the education to workforce pipeline.