Latest FAFSA Completion Numbers Could Indicate More Enrollment Declines for Fall 2021

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter 

FAFSA completions declined by 4.8% for the high school class of 2021 with an estimated 53.3% of the class of 2021 having completed a FAFSA by July 2, according to new data pointing to a troubling picture for fall enrollment trends.

The latest completion data was released as part of a report by National College Attainment Network (NCAN), which tracks FAFSA completion data through the Form Your Future FAFSA Tracker, and is updated weekly from Oct. 1 to June 30 and monthly over the summer. These latest numbers indicate that 102,000 fewer seniors have completed a FAFSA this year.

“We warned that FAFSA completion would be bad because we knew it would be bad, and in the end: it’s bad,” said Bill DeBaun, director of data and evaluation for NCAN.

According to the report the trends could signify a worsening enrollment landscape for the 2021 fall semester due to previous enrollment declines reported on by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center that came on the heels of a smaller FAFSA completion decline last year (-3.4%) and a larger percentage of seniors completing the FAFSA (55.8%).

The report also indicates a troubling demographic impact with decreases in FAFSA completion being inequitably distributed, particularly for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds who were more negatively affected.

The data indicated that among Title I-eligible public high schools — that is schools in which at least 40% of enrolled students are from low-income families — FAFSA completions declined 6.5% compared to 3.7% for non-Title I-eligible public high schools. For schools with more than 40% Black and Hispanic students, the decline was 8.1%, compared to 2.2% in schools with lower enrollment of  Black and Hispanic students.

“Two things are true at this point. First, it isn’t too late for students to complete a FAFSA for the 2021-22 academic year and to pursue a postsecondary pathway this fall,” DeBaun said. “Second, college-going isn’t like a light switch, and students who have not completed key college-going milestones by now or who don’t over the summer will be less likely to pursue and complete a postsecondary pathway.”


Publication Date: 7/20/2021

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