On August 12, the National Women’s Law Center submitted a comment in response to the Department of Education’s (the Department) request for comment on the FAFSA Form’s Demographic Data Collection Survey (the Survey). The Department proposed a pilot demographic survey question to measure the gender identity of FAFSA applicants in the following formulation:
Decline to answer
Our comment commends the Department for seeking to collect demographic data about the sex of FAFSA applicants. It explains that this data will help researchers identify sex-based obstacles to higher education, which impact not only women and girls, but LGBTQI+ people also, who, in addition to holding a significant portion of federal student debt, face economic hardships that pose barriers to education.
We applaud the Department for measuring the number of transgender and nonbinary students applying for federal financial aid. In addition, we voice our support for the Department asking about transgender status in a two-step question, which allows nonbinary applicants to indicate if they also identify as transgender and avoids forcing transgender and nonbinary applicants to choose between indicating their gender identity and their transgender status (as they would in a single-question format ).
We also make several recommendations to further the Department’s goal of identifying economic barriers to education experienced by LGBTQI+ people. First, to ensure the Survey is inclusive of all LGBTQI+ students, we recommend that the Department include questions that measure applicants’ sexual orientation and intersex status, as it is also important to capture the economic barriers to higher education experienced by LGBQ and intersex students. Second, we urge the Department to define the terms “transgender,” “nonbinary,” “intersex,” and “sexual orientation” within the FAFSA form to prevent applicants from misidentifying themselves, which will ultimately improve the accuracy of demographic data collected.
Finally, we make several recommendations to the Department to protect LGBTQI+ students’ privacy, and more specifically, their ability to complete the Survey accurately without fear of being outed to their families or schools, who may not be safe to disclose their LGBTQI+ status to. This is especially important given the rise of legislative attacks on the rights and privacy of LGBTQI+ students across the country.
Read our comment to learn more about our recommendations to the Department.