The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a free form that unlocks access to federal grants, work-study funds, and loans, as well as state and school aid, is a critically important tool for Michigan students who are planning to enroll in college this fall.

FAFSA has been making headlines this year, and not necessarily in a positive way. The form has been revamped, under an initiative called Better FAFSA by Federal Student Aid. The overhauled version of the FAFSA is designed to achieve a number of improvements and streamlined features, including a “significant increase in the number of students eligible to receive a Pell Grant.”

In Michigan, nearly 20,000 more students could qualify for the Pell Grant and eligible students could receive up to $27,500 for college through a new Michigan scholarship, just by filling out the FAFSA form. The number of questions has also decreased from more than 100 to under 20. Unfortunately, the rollout of the new form has been plagued with issues, including a months-long delay that has contributed to a 56% decrease in national submissions compared to 2023.

Here’s the good news, however: Despite these hiccups, the FAFSA changes are a positive and much needed update.

With these changes and Michigan’s transformative $24.3 billion school budget signed in 2023, college has the potential to be more accessible and affordable than ever for Michigan graduates.

Despite the delays and frustrations caused by the changes in the form, students and their support system should not get discouraged. They should be keenly focused on completing the FAFSA now and reviewing their submission summary carefully for any errors. We know that high school seniors who complete the FAFSA are 84% more likely to immediately enroll in post-secondary education. Organizations like the National College Attainment Network have been sounding the alarm, urging students, families, schools, and support organizations to prioritize filling out the FAFSA now, otherwise we could be facing a steep decline in post-secondary enrollment this fall.

At Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars (DRDFS), we are very familiar with the challenges facing today’s students as they work their way through the financial aid process. DRDFS works closely with hundreds of young people across Metro Detroit, we have seen firsthand that with targeted support, including helping students fill out the FAFSA, our students’ dreams of attending college become a reality with the financial aid they unlock after completing the form.

With state investments, there is a 217% increase in financial aid available for state students, according to the Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential (MiLEAP). This extraordinary number supports the idea that college has the potential to be the most affordable it has been in recent history. It also reinforces the vital importance of making sure that students overcome the logistical hurdles and fill out the FAFSA.

The impact of that support can be profound. As of March 2024, over 90% of DRDFS seniors have completed the FAFSA with the help of one-on-one support from our coaches, compared to just over 30% of all seniors nationally. Michigan students are counting on us all to help them navigate the process as they prepare for life after high school.

Jill Marecki is the Next Level Scholars Program Director at Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars.

Originally published in The Detroit News, April 18, 2024

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