On October 16, the National Women’s Law Center and GLSEN submitted a comment in response to the Department of Education’s (the Department) request for comment on its FAFSA Form Demographic Survey, which aims to measure the gender identity of FAFSA applicants. The Department’s proposed survey asks, “What is the student’s gender?” and allows applicants to select “Male,” “Female,” “Nonbinary,” or “Decline to answer.” The survey instructs transgender students to “select the gender with which they identify at the time this form is completed.”
Unlike the last survey the Department proposed in June 2022 (to which we submitted a comment in August 2022), the Department’s current proposal fails to capture students’ transgender status. And, unlike the Department’s last proposal, which posed the demographic survey as a voluntary supplement to the application, the current proposal poses the demographic survey as a required portion of the FAFSA application. Applicants cannot leave the survey blank and must at least select “Decline to answer.”
Our comment reiterates the recommendations we made in our August 2022 comment. The Department should aim to measure gender identity with one question asking applicants about their gender (allowing applicants to select “Male,” “Female,” “Nonbinary,” or “Decline to answer”) and a second question asking applicants about transgender status to accurately assess the financial barriers both nonbinary and transgender individuals face to accessing higher education. We also reiterated our previous recommendation that the Department must continue efforts to test and develop questions measuring intersex status and sexual orientation to ensure it is fully capturing the financial barriers all members of the LGBTQI+ community face to accessing higher education.
Our comment also urges the Department to reconsider its proposal to pose the survey as a required part of the FAFSA application given the safety concerns LGBTQI+ youth completing the FAFSA application may face. It explains that incorporating the demographic survey as a required part of the FAFSA application could place LGBTQI+ youth at risk of unwanted disclosure of their identity to a parent or guardian, who may have to view their LGBTQI+ child’s FAFSA application to input their income information and sign the application. Because of the risk of abuse or homelessness they may face from an unsupportive parent or guardian, LGBTQI+ youth may intentionally misidentify themselves to avoid this harm—also seriously skewing the demographic data the Department is aiming to collect. Accordingly, our comment discusses the importance of allowing students to complete the demographic survey in a voluntary form that is separate from the FAFSA application itself to both protect LGBTQI+ students from the harms associated with unwanted disclosure of their identity and to ensure to that the data collected is accurate.
Read our comment to learn more about our recommendations to the Department.