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FAFSA Applications Lagging Behind 2019 Numbers

A screenshot of the FAFSA website.

(studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa)

Fewer high schoolers have filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) compared to this time last year.

According to the National College Attainment Network (NCAN), about 30 percent of high school seniors nationwide have filled out the FAFSA, down 12.3 percent compared to last year. In Indiana, the numbers are similar: 28 percent of seniors have finished their FAFSAs, a 10.8 percent decrease from 2019.

Prospective college students can fill out the FAFSA to determine their eligibility for federally funded financial aid.

“Completing the FAFSA is really a strong signal that a student intends to probably enroll in college next year,” said MorraLee Keller, director of technical assistance for NCAN. “And so when we see a FAFSA rate that is lagging this far behind this time last year, it makes you begin to worry about what enrollment may look like for the fall of 2021.”

With the coronavirus pandemic upending the traditional college experience, many students may simply be waiting to see what university life looks like in 2021.

Keller says when high school seniors graduated this year during the pandemic, there was an increase in students who finished their FAFSAs between June and August.

“Many students perhaps were not interested in a full online college experience,” Keller said. “So we're going to be really hopeful that over the next few months we may begin to get back closer to where we were this time last year. But it is such a ‘to be seen’ item.”

The difference in FAFSA completion is more pronounced when it comes to schools with high numbers of low-income or minority students: compared to the national average of a roughly 12 percent decrease, schools with high minority populations are down almost 18 percent, while low-income schools are down about 15 percent.

“If I'm going to wear my optimistic lens, we probably have all the way through August to see how the class of 2021 does in terms of completing FAFSAs and enrolling,” Keller said. “By late spring, April, early May – probably whatever percentage we're behind, it's probably going to be the hallmark of, you know, where we'll stay.”

David Johnson, IU Bloomington’s vice provost for enrollment management, says on a local level, the university has actually seen an increase in FAFSAs filed by first-time applicants.

“And even for our continuing undergraduate students, we have more filing the FAFSA this year,” Johnson said. “So I think given the economic downturn due to COVID, I think more students are taking advantage of the options to see if they can get some financial support.”

Data from the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid estimate 70 to 74 percent of Monroe County Community School Corp. seniors completed FAFSAs by Dec. 25, which is the same pace as last year.

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here

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