Snapshot: FAFSA Tracker Shows Potential for Snowballing Enrollment Decline

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

Although the annual FAFSA application period only began roughly two weeks ago, initial completion data is showing a strong negative trend at the outset of the process, indicating that enrollment trends could continue to worsen.

According to the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) FAFSA completion data collected through October 8 shows that completions are down 29% compared to this time last year, and roughly 44% compared to 2019.

It is still too early in the process to garner a strong indication of how the process will unfold in the end, but the first and second week’s completion rates show an initial decline of roughly 66,000 fewer submitted applications. 

NCAN plans to continually update this data weekly, pending FAFSA completion data from Federal Student Aid (FSA), typically released on Fridays.

FAFSA completion data has shown a continued decline in the past two enrollment cycles, further exacerbating a worrying trend for higher education programs.

“Our fingers are crossed that the class of 2022 will break the downward trend in FAFSA completion declines,” said Bill DeBaun, NCAN’s director of data and evaluation. “We will be monitoring this cycle closely to provide updates and insights periodically.”


Publication Date: 10/19/2021

Susan J | 10/22/2021 11:42:58 AM

During each of the FAFSA workshops I've attended, less than half of the students who started the FAFSA ended up completing it because of website issues. Many left in frustration after repeatedly having to go out of the FAFSA and logging back in to progress to the next question. In past years, I've seen these types of problems during the initial days of the new year launch, but not into week 3 of the application cycle like this year. Like Diana S, I am curious how many incomplete FAFSAs exist compared to prior years.

David S | 10/19/2021 1:0:20 PM

It's still early and maybe things get caught up, but I have a hard time looking at this and fearing that the "college isn't worth it/not everyone should go to college" trope getting so much amplification is having (let's face it) its desired effect. And that would weaken the country.

Diana S | 10/19/2021 9:52:45 AM

We observed many, many more students this year who encountered website issues when trying to complete their 2022-23 FAFSAs. Based on comments from other schools and users, it sounds like that may have been a widespread issue. I am curious how many incomplete FAFSAs currently exist compared to prior years and if that may contribute significantly to this decline.

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