- About 5% fewer students renewed their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the upcoming academic year by mid-April than had done so a year ago, according to recent data from the National College Attainment Network (NCAN).
- The decrease represents more than 350,000 students, most of whom are from low-income families.
- The results suggests fewer students than expected may enroll in college in the fall as the form is required to receive federal aid many rely on to pay for their education.
The pandemic contributed to the drop-off, as renewals were behind by only 2.3% year-over-year in late February, according to the analysis, which covered FAFSA renewals made between October and mid-April. The losses have become more significant since mid-March.
The trend is troubling because it suggests more students than usual are uncertain about their ability to return to college in the fall, the organization said in a statement. Meanwhile, colleges are concerned about filling their fall classes and many are waiting to decide when they will reopen campus.
The FAFSA unlocks access to key federal aid, without which students may not be able to afford college. That's especially true for low-income students, who need FAFSA to qualify for Pell Grants. NCAN found that those students are renewing their FAFSA this year at lower rates than their more affluent peers.
Renewals from students whose families earn less than $25,000 are down 8% year-over-year for the period tracked. Meanwhile, those from students whose families earn more than $50,000 decreased 1% during that time.
Incoming students are also affected. Incoming students are also affected. Between mid-March and mid-April, the number of high school seniors completing the FAFSA dropped 2.8 percentage points. That's a 2.6% decrease in submissions from the same period a year ago, amounting to around 50,000 students.
"If completions maintain their current trajectory, a smaller percentage of the class of 2020 will complete a FAFSA than the class of 2019," wrote Bill DeBaun, director of data and evaluation at NCAN in a post on the organization's website.
College officials have expressed fears, captured in a range of recent surveys, about whether they will be able to meet their enrollment goals for this fall. Of particular concern are low-income and underrepresented students.
Pell-eligible students who graduated from high school in 2018 left about $2.6 billion in financial aid unclaimed by not applying for it, according to an analysis by finance company NerdWallet. Slightly more than half of 2018 high school graduates who applied to college were eligible to receive a Pell Grant, yet just over a third of graduates didn't complete the FAFSA, the company explains
Beyond lower levels of FAFSA completion, there are other concerning enrollment indicators for fall 2020. Survey data suggests around 17% of students who planned to attend a four-year full-time college no longer expect to do so, including some who already paid a deposit.
Additionally, more than double the number of institutions as last year said they still had seats, housing and financial aid available for incoming students as of May 1.