New York Students, Families, Advocates, and Education Policy Experts Push for Universal FAFSA   

February 15, 2024 

Contact: Emma Bittner 

(972) 510-3395 |

(New York City, NY) –  Today, a coalition of New York and national advocates assembled to share their collective support for a policy for Universal FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This legislation requires all school districts to ensure that every high school senior completes the FAFSA or the New York State Dream Act application or sign a waiver indicating that they are aware of, but choose not to fill out, the FAFSA. The policy encourages FAFSA completion, support, and reporting at all New York high schools. All students will still be able to graduate regardless of whether they complete an application or opt-out. 

New York Governor Kathy Hochul included the policy in her 2024 State of the State Address and Executive Budget Proposal. It was inspired by similar legislation passed in California in 2021, and examples from other states like Texas and Louisiana, which have had successful universal FAFSA policies for years. This coalition includes experts in education policy, including national and local nonprofits, student advocates, parents, and SUNY Chancellor Dr. John King Jr., the former U.S. Secretary of Education. Chancellor King recently released an Op-Ed with the NY Senate bill sponsor, Senator Andrew Gounardes, supporting the measure. 

By completing the FAFSA, students can learn about federal funds available for them to pay for a 2-4 year degree program, such as Pell Grants, as well as state financial aid in New York, like TAP (Tuition Assistance Program), ACE/ASAP at CUNY and SUNY schools, and scholarships. Research shows that FAFSA completion strongly correlates with college enrollment. Therefore, the policy has important implications for enhancing educational equity and helping to close enrollment and attainment gaps among low-income students, potential first-generation college students, Black and Latin American students, and other marginalized groups.  

New York Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson (D-AD 104), said:  

“Education can be the great equalizer, but only if it’s accessible and affordable. By requiring and helping high school students to complete the FAFSA, we are fulfilling our obligation to expand opportunity to all by making college available to all.” 

 State Senator Andrew Gounardes (D-SD 26) said:  

“How many high school grads have chosen not to attend college because they’re overwhelmed by the cost? The research is clear: when more students fill out the FAFSA, more students attend college, because they’ve learned they can actually afford it. My legislation to create universal FAFSA access ensures every high school senior who wants to can access higher education. With this simple bill, we can show all students that the door to a more prosperous future is unlocked, and put them in a position to fling that door open.” 

Sean Henry Miller, Northeast Regional Director at Young Invincibles, stated:  

“We can’t let New York students miss out on any chance to make higher education more affordable and attainable. I stand with our New York Team and young adult network in ardent support of Universal FAFSA in New York. We were elated to see Governor Hochul’s prioritization of the bill. This policy will help close equity gaps and support thousands of students and families each year to learn about all the financial aid available for college or trade program degrees. It is especially crucial to provide this support to working families, potential first- generation college students, those experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, and students of color. Our state regularly misses out on over two hundred million dollars in federal student aid alone and lags behind many other states in our FAFSA completion rates. Let’s make New York a national leader in higher education equity, enrollment, and opportunity for all.”  

Jeff Smink, Interim Executive Director for The Education Trust–New York said:  

“Completing the FAFSA is a critical equity issue that impacts students across New York State. By passing Universal FAFSA legislation, more students, particularly students of color and from low-income backgrounds, will have the financial support to access, enroll, and succeed at the post-secondary level.” 

Melissa Clarke, New York Policy Director at uAspire said: 

“In New York, we must implement policy initiatives that put students’ needs first. Universal FAFSA completion can ensure that all eligible students can obtain state and federal financial aid funding needed to access a postsecondary education. Universal FAFSA completion is an investment not only in our students but our schools. With this policy, we have an opportunity to call for investments and support for the students and families we serve. It is our responsibility to remove the barriers that exist for our students; specifically, our students who are black, brown,low-income, and first-generation.” 

LaKisha Williams, Director of DegreesNYC said:  

“We stand in support of Universal FAFSA completion in New York with the opt-out provision. FAFSA completion will benefit countless first-generation and low-income students, putting a postsecondary education within reach and opening doors to opportunity. It will also help to increase enrollment, eliminate financial barriers and close equity gaps while breaking cycles of poverty and providing pathways to economic mobility. Financial aid dollars will now be available for families that are most in need. And for those who may not have considered college, technical or trade programs as an option, they can now dream bigger and go further.” 

Ingrid Alvarez, Vice President for Policy and Strategic Engagement at Hispanic Federation said:  

“It is essential that we recognize the transformative impact that a Universal FAFSA will have on students of color in New York State. By ensuring that every student is informed of their eligibility to complete the FAFSA, we have the potential to further break down financial barriers and increase access to higher education for our students. With this legislation, we can level the playing field and transform outcomes for our future leaders across New York.” 

Jacquelyn Martell, Executive Director of Education Reform Now New York said: 

“Applying to college is a long and confusing process and that includes applying for financial aid. I dream of a world where ALL students can access the college experience without being daunted by cost and access. In 2022, just 59 percent of New York high school seniors applied for FASFA, which means many others lost out on hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid. This proposed legislation is pivotal in supporting high school seniors across New York by dismantling barriers in their FAFSA process and providing support in attaining higher education. We are proud to partner with advocacy organizations and our education state leaders in advancing resources for our most marginalized student populations.” 

Bill DeBaun, Senior Director at the National College Attainment Network stated:  

“Every year, students in New York are leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table that could be used to further their postsecondary educational opportunities. Universal FAFSA encourages as many students as possible to be aware of the federal financial aid for which they are eligible. Too many students from low-income backgrounds continue to see postsecondary education as an unattainable dream; universal FAFSA could change that.”  

State Assemblyman Brian Cunningham said:  

“Higher education can be a vital pathway to economic mobility and lifelong achievement. Unfortunately, tuition costs and application fees often present a barrier to educational opportunities for lower-income students. I’m proud to sponsor Assembly Bill 8340, which will help ease the financial burden facing SUNY and CUNY applicants by waiving one application fee for students who apply for federal financial aid. Hand-in-hand with Universal FAFSA, this legislation will open up new opportunities for hundreds of thousands of students each year, providing New York’s public colleges and universities with a robust, diverse pool of young scholars.” 

Jacqueline Ordonez, Youth Advisory Board member at Young Invincibles and Sophomore at NYU said:  

“Navigating the path to college as a first-generation student of color entails overcoming substantial hurdles. From the challenges of acceptance to the daunting college process, the journey is fraught with obstacles. Once enrolled in higher education, financial hardships often emerge, contributing to heightened dropout rates and hindering the completion of degrees. As someone who identifies as both a first-generation student and a person of color, I significantly understand the importance of FAFSA in providing vital aid and funds that make a college education attainable. For individuals like myself, FAFSA serves as a lifeline, enabling access to institutions of higher learning that might otherwise be out of reach. For that reason, I strongly advocate and stand in support of Universal FAFSA as it serves as a catalyst for social mobility, closes the gap in educational attainment, and empowers students to aspire for greatness and encourages students to unwaveringly pursue their dreams.” 


Young Invincibles (YI) is a national advocacy and policy nonprofit organization focused on amplifying the voice of young people in the political process at the local, state, and federal levels. YI focuses on issues impacting young adults ages 18 to 34 in higher education, health care, economic security, and civic engagement. Our offices include Washington, D.C., California, Colorado, Illinois, New York, and Texas. For more information, please contact Emma Bittner at (972) 510-3395 or

#DegreesNYC is a data-informed collective impact movement co-led by young people and education professionals to move to equity in education in NYC. #DegreesNYC was founded in 2016 by Goddard Riverside Options Center, Graduate NYC, and Young Invincibles. It is currently led by a small staff and its Youth Council, in close partnership with its core partners, Young Invincibles and the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, and over 50 member organizations. #DegreesNYC has five or more work groups, task forces, and committees at any given time, currently comprising about 150 people from 100 organizations.  

Goddard Riverside strives toward a fair and just society where all people can make choices that lead to better lives for themselves and their families. Our programs serve more than 20,000 people annually, preparing children and youth for success; supporting self-sufficiency; enriching the lives of older adults; promoting behavioral health; fighting homelessness; and strengthening families and communities.