March FAFSA Data Shows Concerningly Steep Declines in Renewals

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter

Hopes of a March yielding a lion-sized increase in FAFSA renewals did not come to fruition, with an overall 8.9% drop in applications for the 2022-23 cycle.

The data tracked by the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) highlighted heightened concern over renewals for currently enrolled students, as well as Pell Grant-eligible students, who had declines of 12.3% and 15.5% respectively, sparking concern for a potential plummet in enrollment.

Further underscoring the national impact of this trend is that according to NCAN, “no state has a positive year-over-year change in FAFSA renewals.” The average decline is 12.5% in FAFSA renewals compared to the 2021-22 cycle, with the steepest drop being 17.7% in Indiana. NCAN also noted the decline was particularly acute among low-income students.

NCAN outlined a number of plausible explanations for the steep declines — ranging from economic opportunities for workers, remote instruction as a deterrent to college, to even students questioning the value of postsecondary education — but cautioned that the data could not be linked to a single factor.

While there is still time for students to renew their FAFSA, the collected data indicates that more students could be leaving college with accumulated debt and no degree. NCAN encouraged the higher education sector to be proactive in examining their enrollment and reaching out to students and to use their federal pandemic relief dollars (ESSER and HEERF funds, respectively) to “focus on postsecondary transitions, retention, persistence, and completion supports, as appropriate.”

“Increasing awareness of the importance of federal student aid doesn’t stop with incoming college students,” said Karen McCarthy, NASFAA vice president of public policy and federal relations. “On average, the FAFSA takes less than 30 minutes to complete. Still, many students lack the support and resources they need to complete the form and ensure they receive the financial aid they are eligible for. We encourage financial aid offices to continue to reach out to returning students to help them navigate this process.”


Publication Date: 5/3/2022

David S | 5/3/2022 1:12:23 PM

The likely causes are all spot-on, and it warrants mentioning the disappointment of repeatedly hearing the "college isn't worth it" and "not everybody should go to college" talk repeatedly from the media and elected officials (at least 99% of whom will certainly send their kids to college). I know of no other country where so many are discouraging young people from furthering their education, and we as a society will pay for that, dearly.

But a decrease in FAFSA renewals demonstrates once again how we as a nation suffer by overcomplicating the application procedure. Simplification had best be meaningful and not just tweaking at the margins, but it isn't enough. The time has come for a one-time-only FAFSA, good for the duration of a student's enrollment, because show me a low income freshman, and four years later I'll show you a low income senior.

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