Compared to most of the nation, fewer Hoosiers believe they need education beyond high school to get ahead in life, according to a recent report from the American Enterprise Institute — even if the facts don’t support this belief. Hoosiers also value a four-year degree less than other regions in the country, as outlined in the report. As Indiana’s economy is being transformed by technology, automation and higher skill requirements, it’s critical that we embrace postsecondary education and training as the dominant pathway to a good job and economic mobility.
The idea that a high school diploma is enough is reflected in Indiana’s declining college-going rate, which has dropped four percentage points in three years (65% to 61%). Clearly, we must do more to prove to Hoosiers the value of more education and training.
For many years, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education has focused on expanding the definition of “college” to include multiple postsecondary pathways, including high-value certificates and certifications as well as two-year, four-year and graduate degrees. At the same time, we have worked to increase affordability to ensure that Hoosiers can access and earn a credential.
Since the Commission began setting tuition targets for the state’s institutions in 2009, our tuition increases have been among the lowest in the nation. Another opportunity to increase value to Hoosiers is Indiana’s Next Level Jobs program, which provides free training in high-demand industries.
In total, Indiana offers about $350 million each year in need-based aid, ranking us first in the Midwest and fourth in the nation. We must do everything we can to get that support to the Hoosiers who can use it to improve their lives and the strength of our state’s economy.
But the state can’t do it alone. Hoosier families and students must take action to ensure their next steps after high school are as affordable as possible. One of the best ways to do that is by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Filing the FAFSA is a critical step for high school seniors, those currently in college and adult students. A completed FAFSA is required to receive income-based state and federal financial aid, as well as merit-based scholarships, student loans and other financial support. Unfortunately, the number of students filing the FAFSA is down substantially right now. By the end of 2020, just over 28% of Indiana’s high school class of 2021 had completed a FAFSA, a drop of nearly 11% since the same point the year prior.
The decline in filings means Hoosier families and students are not taking full advantage of the financial aid assistance that is available. The economic impact to Hoosiers is great: Education Strategy Group in 2020 estimated students and families in Indiana were missing out on $71.4 million in federal aid.
Most disturbing, we know students with financial need are the least likely to file a FAFSA. For example, FAFSA filings for Hoosiers eligible for federal need-based financial aid are down by more than 22 percentage points compared to last year at this time. We have time to improve these numbers, and we must if we want more Hoosiers to choose college.
There is good news, too: Congress recently approved changes to make the FAFSA form shorter and easier for students and families to complete. The changes were included in the latest federal coronavirus relief package and will take effect in 2023.
In the meantime, Hoosiers can use their mobile phones to file the FAFSA, which can be pre-populated with information pulled from existing federal resources (such as tax information from the Internal Revenue Service). If families need help filing, numerous organizations provide free resources and assistance, including the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, as well as our trusted partner INvestEd.
Of course, none of the benefits of filing a FAFSA can be realized if it is not completed on time. Indiana’s deadline for the FAFSA is April 15, 2021.
But don’t wait and risk missing out on the funding that is available: File online today at FAFSA.gov.