FAFSA Renewals See Steady Increase After Turbulent Spring

By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter

Following a dismal spring of FAFSA submissions due to the disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus, renewals of the application for federal financial aid are starting to level out, registering just a 1% decrease through the middle of June compared to the same time last year.

Bill DeBaun, director of data and evaluation at the National College Attainment Network (NCAN), tracks FAFSA completions and renewals by logging the data provided by Federal Student Aid (FSA) bi-monthly and said the recent figures are encouraging.

Both new FAFSA submissions and renewals suffered a sharp decline from February into April as the pandemic turned the academic calendar upside down and forced high school students across the country to finish the school year from home.

Renewal data through April 15 showed a 4% drop compared to the same time last year — the worst point in 2020.

DeBaun attributed the near-return to normal to a strong showing in May and the first half in June, as well as a change in his methodology so that he now accounts for completions and renewals that were previously on hold.

Additionally, he attributed some of the increase to society coming to terms with the pandemic.

“There was a lot of uncertainty in March and April about the world kind of just shutting down,” he said. “It's not that surprising that we saw FAFSA completion declines because FAFSA wasn't rating as highly as other priorities. What I hoped would happen is that this summer people’s postsecondary plans become a little clearer and then they would go back and complete the FAFSA.”

While students from the lowest income backgrounds saw the steepest decline in both new submissions and renewals and the smallest uptick this month, DeBaun said the newest data are still a positive sign.

“But there is still an important equity issue here about students in the lowest income backgrounds,” he said. “And our fields and institutions themselves shouldn’t lose sight of that.”

Altogether, the data show a “V-shaped” recovery DeBaun and others were hoping to see after the poor showing in the spring that led many to expect a sharp drop in enrollment in the fall to follow.

“We hit bottom at minus 4% in renewals and since then we’ve been climbing back up,” he said.


Publication Date: 7/7/2020

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