Welcome sign: FAFSA filings likely to rise in 2022-23, according to new survey

Some colleges and universities are working with schools and in communities to help explain the deeply complex application process.

The window for parents to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid began on Oct. 1, and at least one financial services company is seeing positive signs coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Discover Student Loans, which conducted a survey of parents whose children are heading for college, said 72% will be filling out FAFSAs this year, a robust 14% improvement over a previous study. That is welcome news for institutions of higher education trying to keep enrollments and retention numbers high.

Still, it does show the level of need facing many parents and students, as inflation continues to strip more dollars from their accounts and wallets each month.

“Given the uncertainties in the economy right now around inflation and fears of a recession, it’s understandable some families are feeling the impact of paying for college and reconsidering applying for federal aid,” says Rich Finn, vice president of Discover Student Loans. “It’s encouraging to see nearly three-quarters of parents planning to complete the FAFSA.”

Discover’s survey accentuates upward signs that were reported in mid-July when the National College Attainment Network showed a 4.6% increase in completions for the 2022-23 academic year. Alabama, Illinois and Texas have led the charge by mandating all high school seniors submit FAFSAs. Bill DeBaun, senior director of Data and Strategic Insights at NCAN, noted at the time the likelihood of a rebound, and it appears that families are responding. But until the numbers are eventually counted in the spring, there is still some uncertainty about whether they can return to pre-pandemic levels. Some critical changes might help get them close, most notably the reduction in questions from 108 to 36, as well as the allowance of those with drug convictions and those without a Selective Service number to apply.

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Providing an assist

More than half of the states failed to surpass the 50% threshold in FAFSA fillings during the previous cycle, and 11 of them showed declines, led by Alaska (-5.4%) and North Carolina (-3.4%). The best of the best in terms of those applying was Louisiana at 66.5%.

There are numerous reasons why FAFSA applications continue to be low year after year, including length and complexity, factors that higher education and Congressional leaders are seeking to remedy in the coming years. Discover also notes that nearly half of all parents haven’t spoken to their kids about FAFSA and don’t know that they can’t apply year-round. About a fifth of them also don’t realize that they can apply now or don’t know how to apply, while 16% said they didn’t know they needed to complete it to get federal financial aid.

In order to provide more clarity and guidance to families and students, states and institutions are coming forward to help streamline the process. The University of Memphis, for example, is planning to host an informational event next week on all things FAFSA for Shelby County Schools with Southwest Tennessee Community College, Tennessee College of Applied Technology and Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education. The hope is that, with enough interest and experts from university teams assisting, filings can be even better than last year. Tennessee was second in the nation last year at 65.1%.

Still, the state’s higher education commission reported last week that there has been a 9-percentage-point drop in enrollments over the past five years. Filling out the FAFSA is essential for students looking to gain entry into the Tennessee Promise program, which can give them free tuition to community or technical colleges, and it is also key in keeping them competitive. Discover says more than half of families who are intent on completing FAFSAs this year across the nation will seek out guidance.

“Employers want and need a skilled and educated workforce, and all students can benefit from education or training beyond high school,” said Dr. Emily House, executive director of the THEC. “We want Tennessee’s high school graduates to know all of their options and that all doors are open to them.”

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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