Midwest Social Sciences Journal


A completed Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) serves as an objective and neutral form required for all individuals who plan to attend college. The social barriers that the application produces and reinforces are all but objective. The application collects information and sorts students into groups based on their responses to questions regarding citizenship, race, gender, marital status, the income of parents, and convictions; and distributes or restricts financial resources based on group membership. The intersection of low socioeconomic status combined with experience in the criminal justice system, which disproportionately arrests and charges people of color (Butler, 2017; Brown, Lane, & Rogers 2002) exacerbates gaps in FAFSA completion rates. While college completion exists as a mitigating factor that combats intergenerational reproduction in the criminal justice system, minority youth who are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system continuously face challenges accessing higher education. The FAFSA serves as the indicator of financial status since it assigns a score indicating to colleges and universities how much families are expected to contribute. The sorting function serves as a barrier to postsecondary education because it does not consider how these groupings affect the chances and choices of the applicant. The language as well as policies such as the Drug-Free Student Aid Provision are deterrents for people of color who bear the social burden of the label convict. Adding to the body of research on the FAFSA, this study examines the use, effects, and function of its written language, particularly question 23. A discourse analysis of the wording of question 23 on the FAFSA reveals the maintenance of a racialized social hierarchy that hinders access to educational opportunity through practice, process, and policy. This finding suggests that access to postsecondary education is not as accessible as the mainstream messages that resonate with prevailing discursive themes.

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