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Translating Financial Aid, Legislation to Remove Language Access Barriers to Higher Education

Updated: Jan 15, 2020

Proposed Bill to Translate FAFSA into Ten Additional Languages

Each year, millions of college hopefuls fill out one of the most important pieces of paperwork of their young lives- the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. For the millions of Limited English Proficient families, however, the real struggle lies in deciphering the complex requirements. Many simply give up. 

On September 27th, Representative Grace Meng (D, NY-6) introduced the FAFSA Translation Act, which would require the office of the Secretary of Education to translate the FAFSA into additional languages. The proposed House legislation provides greater accessibility to federal educational loan programs for linguistic minorities. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor. 

FAFSA is a form filled out by over 12 million college-seekers per year, and is a prerequisite for receiving federal loans such as Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, and qualification for Federal Work-Study Programs. 

The FAFSA Translation Act, H.R. 4567, would amend the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965. The bill mandates that the office of the Secretary of Education must “translate the forms developed under this subsection into not fewer than 11 foreign languages, to be determined by the Secretary.” These eleven would include the currently-available Spanish translation. There would be therefore ten additional translations of FAFSA. FAFSA is also currently available in English Braille. 

Translating FAFSA is particularly important as the number of high school ESL students continue to rise. There are 1.1 million K-12 students in the United States whose home language is neither English nor Spanish. Many of those students and their parents could fill out the FAFSA form in their home language if Rep. Meng’s bill passes: “I believe that translating the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) into additional languages will help more minorities who speak a non-English language attend college,” argues the congresswoman. “Navigating student aid is a difficult process, especially if English is not your native language. By translating FAFSA into additional languages, we can help students and parents understand the aid requirements and ensure their application is complete.”

Such legislation is particularly important in Rep. Meng’s district, located entirely within New York City’s Queens. The borough boasts over 160 languages spoken. Over half of Rep. Meng’s constituents speak a language other than English or Spanish at home: “I represent Queens which is the most diverse district in America, and my bill will help my constituents as well as other diverse communities across this nation,” said Rep. Meng. 

Rep. Meng’s advocacy for translating FAFSA dates back to 2014, when she introduced the issue to the 113th US Congress: “The cost of higher education continues to skyrocket, and all students and families in the borough – regardless of how proficient they are in English – are entitled to seek the same financial aid they need to help pay for college…Language access must no longer be a barrier to college. The process must be made easier” said Meng in a 2014 press release

Rep. Meng has supported multilingualism through other congressional measures, such as sponsoring House Resolution 139, which recognized International Mother Language Day, as well as securing a pilot program that offers tours of the US Capitol in Spanish and Mandarin

Rep. Meng is joined by seven co-sponsors, including Reps. Judy Chu (D, CA-27), Linda Sánchez (D, CA-38), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D, CA-40), Jose Serrano (D, NY-15), Darren Soto (D, FL-9), Adriano Espaillat (D, NY-13), and Sheila Jackson Lee (D, TX-18). 

Take action by writing your member of Congress to co-sponsor The FAFSA Translation Act, H.R. 4567. 

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