COVID has magnified the challenges first-generation and low-income students face in applying for college and financial aid.
A survey of 15,000 high school students conducted this winter by EAB, a student success solutions provider, found:
- Students, particularly first-generation and low-income students, don’t realize how financial aid could work for them and don’t file because they think they won’t qualify.
- When they do file the FAFSA, it’s a challenging experience because they are often doing it on their own or with limited help.
- The support network comprising college counselors, teachers, coaches, employers and family members is more difficult to access during COVID.
- Students and families who most need financial aid are the least likely to have sufficient support to file the FAFSA in the current environment.
In fact, nearly 30% of the low-income students surveyed who did not plan to file a FAFSA told EAB they didn’t think they would qualify for financial aid.
Low-income and first-generation students who planned to fill out the FAFSA were at least twice as likely as higher-income students not to have filed their application yet, the survey also found.
Overall, FAFSA applications are down by 9% this cycle, a decline that is likely to impact enrollment negatively, EAB says.
The firm has the following recommendations for K-12 and college educators to who want to support more students in filing for financial aid:
- Be clear with students, parents, and counselors about what factors should not prevent a student from filing.
- Schools should proactively communicate how they can help families who have lost income, including providing flexibility around deadlines.
- Explain the FAFSA filing process to students who are undocumented or who have parents who are undocumented.
- Make sure students understand that educators and counselors are available to answer questions and it is OK to get help from a college or university in completing the FAFSA.
- Meet students where they are, both physically and in terms of helping them understand even the most basic elements of the process. Personal outreach and removing unnecessary barriers are key in helping students.