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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

MPS poised to make FAFSA completion a graduation requirement

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Emily Files
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Milwaukee Riverside University High School class of 2022 graduates.

In an effort to boost college enrollment and affordability, Milwaukee Public Schools is set to make FAFSA completion a graduation requirement.

The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It gives students access to Pell grants and other college financial aid, and is a key indicator of college enrollment.

During the pandemic, the number of students filling out the FAFSA and enrolling in college declined across Wisconsin. Pre-pandemic, 74% percent of students in the MPS class of 2019 completed the FAFSA. Just 42% of graduates in the class of 2022 have filled out the FAFSA so far.

>>FAFSA Numbers Down In Wisconsin, Raising Concerns About Freshman College Enrollment

MPS Director of College and Career Readiness John Hill told a school board committee Tuesday that mandating the FAFSA would, for example, give more students access to free-tuition programs at schools like MATC and UW-Madison.

"Wisconsin ranks 41st in the nation in terms of FAFSA completion," Hill said. "And I believe the last statistic I saw, we were 15th highest in student debt. So really this is a step towards ensuring our students are best prepared to access that postsecondary opportunity that they might not even be looking at without requiring that [FAFSA] conversation to happen."

MPS would allow students who don’t want to fill out the FAFSA to request a waiver. Board member Sequanna Taylor said the waiver would help ensure the requirement doesn’t hurt students.

"I’m glad that we have a way on there that if they don’t want to fill it out, this will not be used as barrier against them," Taylor said. "We don’t want to create more barriers for them to graduate."

Eight other states have made FAFSA completion a high school graduation requirement, including Illinois. Wisconsin has not taken that step. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction was not able to answer whether any other districts in the state require the FAFSA for graduation.

The full MPS Board will vote on the new graduation requirement Thursday night.

The policy change is supported by UWM Chancellor Mark Mone, who noted in a letter to the MPS Board that students are more likely to stay enrolled in college if they have completed the FAFSA.

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Emily has been reporting on Milwaukee-area education for WUWM since 2018.
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