Pandemic Spurs Parents to Complete FAFSA as Application Period Approaches, New Survey Finds

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

As the October 1 release date for the 2021-22 FAFSA looms, a number of parents in a recently released survey cited the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as an impetus to change the manner in which they approach financial aid for the upcoming academic year.

The study, conducted by Discover Student Loans, reported that 39% of parents who did not plan to apply for federal aid now say they will in light of the recent pandemic. Of the parents polled 48% said they lost income as a result of the pandemic and 44% found that they could not afford to pay for as much of their child’s education as they had originally planned.

“For many families, the FAFSA is an important piece of the college financial journey, and the application is used to determine students’ eligibility for federal, state and institutional aid like grants and scholarships,” said Manny Chagas, vice president of Discover Student Loans. “Given the weight of this year’s uncertainties, it’s critical that families apply as early as possible when the application becomes available, because some schools award financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis.”

The survey polled parents with college-bound teens at the outset of the coronavirus outbreak in early March and again in May. The May iteration of the survey found that of parents worried about paying for college with 53% being concerned that their child would not receive enough financial aid, an increase of 9% from the pre-pandemic survey. In addition, 26% of families said they would appeal their student’s financial aid package.

NASFAA recently updated its 2015 FAFSA simplification proposal through its “Exploring Ways to Enhance FAFSA Efficiency Paper Series” and enlisted other subject-matter experts to both assess the current validity of previous work done on FAFSA efficiency and explore new simplification concepts. Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) indicated during a recent FAFSA simplification  hearing that Congress could aim to tackle the issue during its upcoming lame duck session. Those updates, if agreed to, would not impact this upcoming application period.

While institutions of higher education continue to adjust to these new financial realities, negotiations surrounding additional coronavirus aid remain ongoing. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is preparing to unveil a new coronavirus stimulus plan calling for up to $2.4 trillion in spending in an attempt to restart negotiations with Republicans and the White House as talks have stalled in recent weeks.

NASFAA on Friday joined a coalition of higher education associations, led by the American Council on Education, in asking for $120 billion in additional funds for education in order to "partially mitigate the challenges that students and institutions are facing" as a result of the pandemic.


Publication Date: 9/29/2020

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