Before heading to a upscale Florida resort for the weekend, President Obama on Friday told prospective college students to take advantage of federal financial aid programs and, if they don’t, offered governors and high school leaders new power to give them a hand.
Speaking at Coral Reef High School in Miami, the president said all 50 governors now can “confidentially” tell high school principals and administrators which students have filled out federal forms needed to qualify for financial aid and which haven’t. School personnel then could work with students to fill out the forms, the president said.
The effort is entirely voluntary. States can choose whether to participate.
The initiative is meant to increase the percentage of students who fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA form. Students who don’t complete it lose access to Pell Grants and other forms of federal aid.
“My challenge today to every high school student in America — fill out the form. Even if you think you might not qualify for financial aid, fill out the form. You might qualify,” the president told a raucous group of students gathered inside the school. “And we’re making it easier than ever. We put the FAFSA form online. We made it shorter. It takes about half an hour to fill out. And it could change the rest of your life.”
Coral Reef, Mr. Obama said, is an example other states and school districts should follow. Four years ago, about half of the school’s graduating class filled out FAFSA forms.
Last year, about 71 percent did, according to the Miami Herald.
But statewide and across the nation, too many students don’t take advantage of federal help, the president said.
“Last year, almost half of high school graduates in Florida didn’t fill out the FAFSA form. That ain’t right,” Mr. Obama said. “As a result,they lost out on over $100 million in Pell Grants. Think about that. That’s $100 million that could’ve helped Florida students help pay for college was just left on the table. That’s just in Florida. Nationwide, over 1 million high school students didn’t fill out the FAFSA form. That happens every year.”
The White House said Mr. Obama’s earlier efforts to promote greater access to student aid have contributed to a 33 percent increase in the number of FAFSA forms filed, from 16.4 million in 2008-2009 to 21.8 million in 2012-13.