Wealth Management

FAFSA ‘fiasco’ could cause decline in the number of students going to college, experts say

Affordability is the No. 1 issue among college hopefuls. And yet, fewer students are applying for financial aid.

Problems with the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid have discouraged many high school seniors and their families from completing an application, experts say.

At the current rate, the number of FAFSAs submitted by the end of August will be about 2.8 million lower than the same time last year, a decrease of 19%, according to higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz.

“That’s significant,” he said of the impact of the FAFSA “fiasco” on the number of applications. “That’s enough to cause a sharp decline in college enrollment in the fall.” 

More from Personal Finance:
Student loans are now easier to discharge in bankruptcy
Harvard is back on top as the ultimate ‘dream’ school
More of the nation’s top colleges roll out no-loan policies

The Department of Education said it is ramping up operations to process FAFSA applicant information and has begun delivering “thousands” of applications to schools, according to a department spokesperson.

Fewer students are filling out the FAFSA

As of March 8, only 31% of the high school class of 2024 had completed the FAFSA, according to the National College Attainment Network, a 33% decline compared to a year ago.

“We are getting to a point where kids are just giving up on it,” said Anne Zinn, a school counselor at Norwich Free Academy in Norwich, Conn. “They are so extremely frustrated they just don’t know what to do.”

“There’s also a psychological aspect of this,” Kantrowitz added. “Students have no confidence that they are going to get the financial aid they need to make college affordable and they are opting out.”

The FAFSA serves as the gateway to all federal aid money, including loans, work study and grants, the latter of which are the most desirable kinds of assistance because they typically do not need to be repaid.

Under the new aid formula, an additional 2.1 million students should be eligible for the maximum Pell Grant, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

However, given the slower pace of FAFSA applications being submitted, “the number of Pell Grant recipients will be about the same as last year, despite the new Pell Grant formula making it easier for students to qualify,” Kantrowitz said.

“The goal of FAFSA simplification was to increase the number of lower-income students applying. If we have fewer because of a bad rollout, it’s extremely problematic,” he added.

FAFSA completion paves the way to college

Submitting a FAFSA is one of the best predictors of whether a high school senior will go on to college, the National College Attainment Network found. Seniors who complete the FAFSA are 84% more likely to immediately enroll in college. 

However, in the past, many families mistakenly assumed they wouldn’t qualify for financial aid and didn’t even bother to apply. Others said a lengthy and overly complicated application was a major hurdle. Some said they just didn’t have enough information about it.

“I never planned to attend college because I knew my mother couldn’t afford it,” said Tikai Harvey, 19, a sophomore at Hunter College in New York. Harvey only learned about the FAFSA her senior year of high school, she said. Before then, “I didn’t know federal grants existed.”

In ordinary years, high school graduates missed out on billions in federal grants because they didn’t fill out the FAFSA. The plan to simplify the 2024-25 form was meant to improve college access.

This year’s rollout has not achieved that, Kantrowitz said. “This is a complete mess.”

Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.

Articles You May Like

Warner Bros. Discovery strikes 10-year deal to broadcast the French Open in the U.S.
GameStop shares jump more than 40% as ‘Roaring Kitty’ schedules YouTube livestream for Friday
PGA, Saudi-backed LIV in ‘active discussions’ one year after announcing proposed deal that rocked the golf world
Oracle shares jump on Google and OpenAI deals despite earnings miss
Here’s what’s next for Paramount after Skydance deal is stopped in its tracks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *