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Milwaukee Public Schools require federal college aid application before graduation

Goal is to drive college enrollment by showing students what federal aid is available

A book about financial aid is seen at a college fair in New York
A book about financial aid is seen at a college fair in New York, Sunday, March 26, 2017. Seth Wenig/AP Photo

Hoping to encourage more students to pursue college, Milwaukee Public Schools will require completion of federal financial aid applications before graduation.

In a unanimous vote, members of the Milwaukee County Board of School Directors approved a recommendation that FAFSA applications be added to existing graduation requirements.

During a board committee hearing last week, MPS Director of College and Career Readiness John Hill called the plan a big step forward for the district.

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“With the rising costs of post-secondary education, it is critical for us to prepare students to access college just as we prepare them academically,” said Hill.

The requirement can be waived for students who are undocumented residents of the city, unable to access financial information of their parents.

“Student privacy is a priority. We will not be documenting why the student was waived from this requirement, and they will be considered as meeting the requirement” said Hill.

In a letter to the board, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone said 242 MPS students enrolled at the university in 2020 after getting help filling out FAFSA forms from high school college and career services staff. Mone said UWM enrollment information suggests there could be a higher percentage of students that may be eligible for federal grants for students from lower income families.

“There is also a disproportionate impact on underserved groups,” Mone wrote. “Wisconsin ranks 41st nationally in FAFSA completion rates, and the National College Attainment Network estimates that Wisconsin high school students left almost $50 million on the table in 2021.”

A 2019 study by the National College Attainment Network found more than 91 percent of high school graduates who completed a FAFSA application enrolled in college within the same year compared to less than 50 percent of graduates who did not.

The number of students in Wisconsin high schools completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has dropped by more than 12 percent between 2019 and 2021 according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum. The decline was worse among state 12th graders of color in public schools, falling more than 13 percent during the same period.

As of Tuesday, MPS administrators said 42 percent of students graduating this year had filled out the applications, though that is expected to increase during the summer.

FAFSA applications are required before graduation in Louisiana, Texas, Illinois, California, Alabama, Colorado, New Hampshire and Maryland.