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Montana’s future is at risk

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As of the writing of this guest editorial, there has been a 30 percent decrease in FAFSA submissions by students and their parents across the United States compared to last year. In Montana, the decline is also substantial at 25 percent.

What is FAFSA and why is it important? FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and students must complete it prior to applying for federal grants, work-study, and loans. Colleges and universities use student FAFSA data to determine their federal aid eligibility. It is administered by the U.S. Department of Education, which provides more than $150 billion in student aid each year. To apply for federal student aid, students need to complete the FAFSA at:

Many colleges and universities use FAFSA data to help determine their own aid awards as well.

As a Nation, We Are Behind the Eight Ball

The U.S. Department of Education has been leading the implementation of a FAFSA simplification process which has been fraught with errors and setbacks. This has led to frustrations with prospective college students and their parents, high school counselors, and other important stakeholders. Extensive media coverage of these challenges may have prompted some students and their families to postpone filling out the FAFSA. In addition, these delays by the U.S. Department of Education have hindered the timely delivery of finalized FAFSA information to colleges and universities. This has limited the time available for students and their parents to consider and decide on their college options.

There is Good News

The new FAFSA is truly more simple and easier to complete. Most students note it can be completed in 20 minutes or less, a significant improvement over the previous 108-question form. Carroll College has provided a website explaining how to complete the form at: However, the Education Department must process and return those forms in a more timely manner for this simplification to benefit students and parents. The process is underway, and financial aid packages are now starting to be distributed.

Is College Worth It?

YES! According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2022 data, college graduates with a bachelor’s degree had a median weekly income of $1,432, in contrast to the $853 earned by those with only a high school diploma. This means that college graduates earn 68% more than those who have only completed high school.

Our state and great nation depend on an educated citizenry. Most jobs, now and in the future, will require advanced training beyond high school. As a result, high school graduates should consider some form of postsecondary education whether it’s obtaining a two-year college degree or certificate, pursuing a four-year degree, or engaging in an apprenticeship. Consequently, to be eligible for financial aid for associate- or bachelor-level degrees, most students will be required to fill out a FAFSA.

The Stakes for Montana and our Nation are High

We have just come through some challenging years in terms of both education and workforce due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Should enrollment in our state’s public and private colleges and universities suffer because of the U.S. Department of Education’s poorly executed FAFSA simplification efforts, we could see long-lasting effects on future earnings and workforce composition.

A Call to Action

I am writing this guest editorial not only as the President of Carroll College in Helena, Montana, but also as the Chair of the Student Aid Committee for the 1,000-member National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU). Please encourage all students who may be eligible for federal or institutional financial aid to complete their FAFSA forms immediately – TODAY! I am asking high school counselors, teachers, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends to encourage prospective college students to not delay. 

Again, our future depends on an educated citizenry. Students’ futures are reliant on obtaining the necessary education to realize their goals. Should a student or family need assistance with the process, reach out to any college or university in Montana. Carroll College’s financial aid team is happy to answer questions, email: or call 406-447-5425.

Dr. John E. Cech is President of Carroll College and Chair of the Student Aid Committee for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Cech previously served as Deputy Commissioner of Higher Education for the Montana University System (2011-2018).


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