Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


For thousands of Minnesota students, receiving financial assistance is the make-or-break factor for pursuing higher education. Receiving monetary aid for college is often contingent upon completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, which has long been a somewhat tedious process, especially for families with no previous college experience.

The federal Education Department attempted to streamline and update FAFSA last year to make the form simpler and shorter. But the December rollout was plagued by technical glitches and delays, leaving families up in the air about how much assistance they might receive.

That's why additional state resources to help Minnesota students access financial help are so welcome and needed. This week, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan announced that the Minnesota Office of Higher Education (OHE) has awarded two $15,000 grants to nonprofits College Possible and Achieve Twin Cities. The funds will boost staffing for one-on-one consultations and other resources to help students navigate the aid application process.

"A student's financial aid package is often the determining factor in whether they enroll," Flanagan said in a statement. "In Minnesota, we have made historic investments to better support our students and break down financial barriers to ensure anyone who wants to attend college has that opportunity. To all Minnesotans: The time to apply for financial aid is now."

She told an editorial writer that more than $2.5 billion in federal, state and institutional financial aid is typically awarded in Minnesota every year. About 225,000 Minnesotans fill out the FAFSA in a typical year. But due to problems with the system, FAFSA completion rates in the state are down by 16% from last year. That decrease occurred despite the state's 2021 goal of increasing FAFSA filing by five percentage points every year and of closing gaps in filing by Black or Indigenous students and other students of color.

"The smallest technical problem can completely deter already hesitant students and families pursuing higher education — they can just give up," Flanagan said, adding that with the additional resources and some of the glitches resolved, state officials are asking students to try again. With the grants, partner organizations can increase efforts over the summer to provide counseling to get kids into college this fall.

Nationally, the number of students who have successfully submitted the FAFSA is down 29% from this time last year, and the numbers are even lower at schools with more low-income students, according to the National College Attainment Network. Many officials closely monitor the number of student filers to get early predictions of the coming freshmen enrollments.

One of the particularly difficult glitches blocked students from finishing the form if they have a parent without a Social Security number. That problem locked out hundreds of thousands of students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents but whose parents are not, and it interfered with those attempting to apply under the Dream Act.

To wisely address that and other issues, OHE is also partnering with the Minnesota Department of Education to get information on the FAFSA and Minnesota Dream Act directly into the hands of high school seniors and their families. The application process is beginning to smooth out and award letters are starting to be sent. Still, state leaders and higher education advocates put out a "message of urgency" for Minnesota students: Complete the college financial aid forms.

Students and families should heed that important advice and use the available resources, including tips listed in a recent Star Tribune news article at tinyurl.com/figure-out-aid, to apply for aid now.