Redesigned Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will allow thousands of additional Rhode Island students from low-income backgrounds to receive Pell Grants
Governor Dan McKee, K-12 Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, and Commissioner of Postsecondary Education Dr. Shannon Gilkey are encouraging students and families to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which opened as part of a soft launch on December 31. The gateway to federal financial aid, grants, scholarships, and work-study opportunities, and a key metric in Governor McKee’s plan to meet or exceed Massachusetts’ education performance levels by 2030, the FAFSA has undergone a significant redesign to reduce barriers for some low-income families. Students will need to create an FSA ID before filling out the application. The FSA ID is a username and password combination used to log in to the U.S. Department of Education online systems and is used every year when filling out the FAFSA.
“Completing the FAFSA is a crucial step towards providing our students with the means to achieve their educational goals and contribute to the prosperity of our state,” said Governor Dan McKee. “By including FAFSA completion rate in our plan to improve student outcomes and reach Massachusetts’ levels of learning by the end of the decade, we are underscoring Rhode Island’s dedication to a well-educated and economically thriving state in the years to come.”
Rhode Island is typically a top performer in FAFSA completion. According to the RI FAFSA Dashboard, more than half (59%) of the class of 2023 completed the application by the end of school year 2022-2023.
The simplified application will allow nearly 3,000 additional low-income students from Rhode Island to receive federal Pell Grants, which do not need to be paid back. More than 6,000 additional students will be able to receive the maximum Pell Grant of $7,395. This represents a $500 increase from $6,895 made possible by the Consolidated Appropriation Act, 2023. Pell Grant eligibility will be linked to family size and federal poverty level. Further details regarding eligibility changes can be found here.
“Filling out this free application can truly be life-changing for our Rhode Island students and families,” said Board of Education Chair Michael Grey. “As the cost of tuition increases nationwide, we want students to know that financial constraints should never stand in the way of their educational aspirations.”
In 2021-2022, Rhode Island received $89,042,983 in Pell Grant funding. There were 21,422 Pell Grant recipients. In the same year, nationally, Pell Grant funding totaled $25,870,189,157 to 6,079,967 recipients.
“Rhode Island has been and remains a leader in making postsecondary education a realistic opportunity,” said David Caprio, Chairman of the Rhode Island Council on Postsecondary Education. “The Pell Grants were Senator Claiborne Pell’s signature provision of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, helping to make the dream of a college education available to millions. And our Congressional delegation is deeply committed to the success of higher education initiatives that promote attainment, affordability and equity.”
“Education is the foundation upon which we build our state’s future,” said Chair of the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education Patti DiCenso. “We encourage students and families to begin the FAFSA and take advantage of the tools that will set them up for success.”
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the changes to the FAFSA form represent the “most ambitious and significant redesign” of the processes to apply for federal student aid and the formulas used to determine aid eligibility since the 1980s. The updates are part of the Department’s implementation of the bipartisan FUTURE Act and FAFSA Simplification Act.
“Rhode Island is committed to removing barriers and opening doors for students, and we are grateful for our federal and state partners who have worked diligently to increase student access to higher education,” said Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. ”By ensuring financial aid is within reach, we are fostering a more equitable and inclusive future for Rhode Island. We encourage all students and families to fill out the FAFSA, and share our gratitude with the many school counselors, administrators, and staff who are committed to helping families navigate through the FAFSA process.”
“For the past two years, Rhode Islanders forfeited $16 million in federal aid that they were eligible for because they didn’t complete the FAFSA,” said Shannon Gilkey, Ed.D., Commissioner of Postsecondary Education. “There is both hope and opportunity to make significant improvements in our state’s FAFSA rates because when those federal dollars are braided with state resources, we can help more Rhode Islanders pay for college.”
“Thousands of financial aid dollars go unused each year due to not filing the FAFSA. FAFSA not only qualifies students for Pell Grants, but is used by colleges and universities to determine any institutional aid they must allocate,” said College Planning Center Director Stacy Crooks. “Additionally, filing a FAFSA qualifies students for federal student loans, which is the lowest-cost option for students who need to borrow. We are here to help at the College Planning Center with extended hours including weekends. Money for college starts with FAFSA.”
Students who cannot apply for federal student aid due to immigration status can utilize the Rhode Island Alternative Application for State Postsecondary Student Financial Assistance. Eligibility and application instructions can be found here.
Each year, high schools across Rhode Island hold workshops for students and families to complete their applications and learn about free resources, including the state’s FAFSA dashboard, which shows the percentage of high school seniors who have completed the federal aid application, broken down by school.
Beginning with the class of 2028, under the revised Rhode Island Readiness-Based Graduation Requirements, FAFSA and state aid completion data will be reported in Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) school report cards, and will be included in school accountability. This puts the onus on schools to support students in filling out the FAFSA and state aid forms to ensure all students get help in maximizing financial assistance.
The federal FAFSA deadline is June 30, but programs may have different priority deadlines. It is important to apply early because financial aid is first-come, first-served. For more information on the state’s FAFSA completion resources, including FAFSA Myths & FAQS, visit www.prepare-ri.org/fafsa.