New analysis says Louisiana college students missed out on over $44 million in financial aid last year

Louisiana students missed out on about $44.4 million that could have helped pay for college last year because they didn't fill out the form that qualifies them for federal financial aid, according to a new analysis.

NerdWallet, a personal finance website, estimates that about half of the state's high school graduates in 2014 never filled out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. That includes about 11,698 high schoolers who would have qualified for the federally-funded Pell Grant. The Pell Grant is a needs-based scholarship program that, unlike student loans, doesn't have to be repaid.

Louisiana Education Superintendent John White raised the issue last year, noting that in addition to grants, students may be missing out on opportunities for work-study programs and government-backed loans by failing to fill out the FAFSA.

The FAFSA also is used to qualify for state aid, including Louisiana’s TOPS program that covers tuition for in-state students and the state’s GO Grant program. The state has a simpler, alternate form students can fill out for its aid programs, but it doesn’t cover federal assistance.

White and others have advocated for a simpler FAFSA, while the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Aid has ramped up college-ready events that encourage and aid FAFSA completion.

The completion rate problem isn't unique to Louisiana, NerdWallet's analysis found.

An estimated 1.4 million high school graduates -- 750,000 of them who would likely qualify for Pell Grants -- didn't complete out FAFSA forms last year.

Nationally, that meant as much as $2.7 billion in free federal grant money was left on the table in the past academic year, according to NerdWallet's analysis.

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