FILE - high school graduation

High school seniors in Illinois will soon be required to fill out a federal financial aid request before getting a diploma.

A new law that takes effect starting in the 2020-2021 school year requires students to apply for financial aid, regardless of their post-high school plans.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he signed the bill into law to help encourage more students to seek additional education after high school.

“We want Illinois’ young people and anybody that wants to go to school, community college or university, to be able to do so,” the governor said.

The new law requires graduating seniors to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA form. Students can opt-out by signing a document indicating they understand the FAFSA forms and choose not to take part.

FAFSA funding can be used for four-year universities, community colleges or trade schools.

There's a direct correlation between the number of students who complete the FAFSA application and the percentage of students who attend college, according to the National College Access Network. Some 90 percent of high school seniors who complete a FAFSA form attend college directly from high school. That number drops to 55 percent for those who do not complete a FAFSA form, according to the National College Access Network website.

Illinois is ranked 10th among all 50 states and Washington D.C. in FAFSA completion, with 63.3 percent of students graduating this past spring completing the form, according to data compiled by the network.

The governor said opening the door to more financial aid for college will help bring more federal dollars to help Illinois students.

“We’re out to make sure that we bring as many federal dollars as we can to help our students go to school here in Illinois, or anywhere else that they choose,” Pritzker said.

The new graduation requirement could mean a boost in community college and trade school enrollment.

Matt Berry, a spokesman for the Illinois Community College Board, said the FAFSA law could show more high school seniors that attending community college or trade schools are a possibility.

It will “make college an opportunity for more students,” he said.

Berry also said the financial aid application process could help students to start thinking about post-high school plans earlier.

“I think it gets students thinking about the possibilities of community college earlier on in the process and gets them prepared and ready to go sooner than many of the students who might not otherwise,” he said.

Berry said the new requirement also “allows the community college system to get connected with students earlier and make those contacts and relationships and really show students what the possibilities are for them, not just a four-year degree.”

Supporters of the new law have said it’s intended to show students the possibilities for post-secondary education. Opponents of similar legislation have said that requiring the FAFSA application could lead to more students accumulated more debt without fully understanding the costs associated with long term debt.

Some have also raised concerns about the additional costs for high schools to comply with the new law.

Staff Writer

A Chicago area radio news veteran, Jim Moran covers statewide issues for The Center Square. Previously, he has worked as a news reporter/anchor and traffic reporter for numerous radio stations across Illinois and the St. Louis metro area.