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Richard K. Vedder

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Should College Application Be Required for a High School Diploma?

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The Wall Street Journal last week reported legislators in a growing number of states are trying to pass new laws requiring high school seniors to complete applications for college financial aid (mainly the federal FAFSA—Free Application for Student Aid—but also sometimes state forms) before receiving a high school diploma. It is already law in Louisiana. Nebraska legislation was vetoed by Governor Pete Ricketts.

The argument for such legislation is: a college degree will be needed for most jobs created in coming years, and college graduates are more productive citizens, so increasing higher education participation should stimulate economic growth. Moreover, underrepresented groups in college attendance, such as minorities and lower income citizens, often fail to apply for available financial aid to attend college, and thus do not even try to go to college. This legislation is a way of nudging high school seniors to become aware of the possibility of getting college financial aid. In Louisiana, completion of the FAFSA form rose after the Louisiana law was passed.

Yet there are strong compelling arguments against such legislation. First, I think it is dishonest, even immoral, to withdraw an earned mark of academic accomplishment, a high school diploma, from a student because he or she refuses to do something having absolutely nothing to do with high school academic performance. Consider two students of similar financial circumstance graduating from the same high school, one in the top one-fourth of the graduating class but who plans to go to work in the family business (farm, hardware store, roofing company, restaurant, etc.) after graduation, and thus does not want to go to college and fill out the FAFSA application.
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