By Justin Sink
President Obama urged students Friday to complete a financial aid eligibility form that "could change the rest of your life."
"Even if you think you might not qualify for financial aid—fill out the form and find out. You just might," Obama said of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA.
During a visit to a Miami high school, the president announced that the Department of Education would begin to partner with states to help identify students who have not completed the form.
He encouraged students to engage in "friendly competition" with rival high schools to complete the form, noting that almost half of eligible students in Florida had failed to fill it out last year.
"As a result, they lost out on over $100 million in Pell grants," Obama said. "Think about that — $100 million that could have helped florida student pay for college was left on the table."
The new program, if adopted by state governors, is designed to help channel additional resources to school districts where a large percentage of students have failed to properly apply for aid, in a bid to increase participation.
The Office of Federal Student Aid will also publish online data for about 25,000 high schools nationwide detailing what percentage of students complete the financial aid form. The tool is intended to help educators and outside foundations better target locations where FAFSA completion is lagging.
“Filing the FAFSA is required in order for students to receive access to Title IV student aid programs, like the Federal Pell Grant and Federal student loans,” the White House said in a statement. “It also is used by states, colleges, and universities in awarding other state-based or institution-based aid. Nonetheless, millions do not file a FAFSA each year, and many who do not may be eligible for federal student aid.”
The president is also expected to tout education initiatives found in his budget proposal released earlier this week. That includes his plan to offer universal pre-K, $300 million for a new Race to the Top program and $150 million to help high schools redesign their curriculum.
First Lady Michelle Obama, who has promoted completing the form at recent education events, joined the president at the event ahead of a vacation weekend in Key Largo for the first family.
The president said when he first met his wife, he "noticed that she was smart. I noticed she was funny. She's funnier than I was. Obviously, I noticed she was cute."
But, Obama said, he was also impressed that she had able to achieve so much despite humble roots "because she had worked hard and her parents understood the value of education."
"No striving, hard working, ambitious young American should be deprived a college education just because they can't afford it," he said.
This story was updated at 3:56 p.m.