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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's students are missing out on millions of dollars in federal financial aid that could help them gain skills training or college degrees after high school, Superintendent of Education John White said Thursday.
The problem, White said, is that only 44 percent of Louisiana's public high school seniors fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA. That application is used to determine if students are eligible for Pell grants, work study programs, federal student loans and other types of aid for college and technical training.
At a joint meeting of the Board of Regents and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, White said Louisiana students give up at least an estimated $54 million in financial aid each year because they're not filling out the FAFSA application.
"This is free money. This is life opportunity," he said.
White said he'll be talking to local school boards, school superintendents and other education leaders about ways to improve the application rate.
He acknowledged some families don't want to fill out the form because of privacy concerns about sharing their personal information, and he said he won't support any mandate for students to fill out the application.
But he said research indicates privacy issues aren't why most students forego the form and miss out on the federal student aid.
"The form is complicated. They're intimidated by it. They don't have anyone helping them. Or in many cases, they're simply not aware of it," White said.
Louisiana's completion rate of the form falls below the national average of 55 percent. And the low number of applications comes in a state that is among the poorest in the nation, where a larger percentage of students would likely be eligible for financial aid.
The education department said if Louisiana's application rate reached the national average, 4,400 more students a year would receive federal student aid totaling $54 million to pay for technical training and college degree programs.
"It is unacceptable that as a state our numbers are far below the national average. More importantly, however, leaving $54 million on the federal table that will help our students is a problem we all must unite to rectify," LSU System President and Chancellor F. King Alexander said in a statement.
More information about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is available at: https://fafsa.ed.gov/
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