Are latest layoffs at this university a first look at the FAFSA fiasco’s consequences?

Lindenwood University recently announced it’s letting go of 12 staff members and two faculty members and may decide not fill up to 50 positions in order to help cut its operating budget by 10%, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. While enrollment began to fall at the Missouri-based private university last fall, this year’s FAFSA complications have compounded the issue, forcing Lindenwood to make its second round of layoffs in a single year.

Decreased year-over-year FAFSA filing numbers brought on by the stress, confusion and doubts applicants and their parents are experiencing due to this year’s federal aid delays closely mirror the crisis higher education endured during the pandemic, says Kenneth Ferreria, director of student financial services at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire.

“You have a group of students who, much like COVID, have evaporated,” he says. “They’re not even filing because they’re hearing from other students that this is such a mess.”

Ferreira described the pandemic and this year’s complications as a one-two punch. Greg Matthews, vice president for enrollment management at Western New England University, forecasts the second blow may be more dire for many institutions, considering they have fewer reserves to fall back on to mitigate another large deficit. Moreover, he’s hearing from more and more school recruiters that their institutions’ enrollment numbers are falling below last year’s.

“It’s almost to be expected,” he says. “Most people want to know what they can afford before they make these choices.”

With about 27% of Western New England’s students being Pell-eligible, its financial aid office bypassed the FAFSA form this application season. Instead, it formed in-house estimations and award packages on what students need to afford college. Other mid-sized private universities have made similar moves.

“It was a calculated risk on our part,” Matthews says. “We really had to accept the closest account.”

The university also buffed up its application pool to help avoid a dip in enrollment.

While institutions’ enrollment numbers are slowly beginning to take shape, many schools may not sound the alarm until after the fall semester begins, Ferreira says. Universities’ bottom lines will remain cloudy until batch corrections on FAFSA form errors become available in mid-August.

“It remains to be seen what this will do,” he says, “but the impact right now, if you look at FAFSA filing, is shaping up to be very similar to 2020. Very similar.”

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Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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