NCAN Report: $3.6 Billion in Pell Grants Went Unclaimed in 2022

By Maria Carrasco, NASFAA Staff Reporter

Students who graduated from high school in 2022 left about $3.6 billion in Pell Grants unclaimed by not completing the FAFSA, a new report from the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) found.

NCAN estimates that about 767,000 students from the class of 2022 who would be eligible for Pell Grants — 47% of the class — did not complete the FAFSA. The overall FAFSA completion rate for the class of 2022 ticked up to 59%, from 57% for the class of 2021. But the analysis claims recent high school graduates are leaving more potential aid on the table than previous years.

“Today's findings are bittersweet,” said NCAN CEO Kim Cook, in a statement. “The class of 2022's FAFSA completion increase means more students are accessing the Pell Grant, but so many students across the country are still not getting the financial aid that could put a postsecondary pathway within reach.”

NCAN breaks down its finding by state, and predictably, states with higher populations recorded the highest sums of Pell Grant dollars missed out on by high school graduates.

According to NCAN, states with the highest rates of FAFSA completion for 2022 high school graduates included Washington, D.C. at 74%, Tennessee at 71%, Louisiana at 69%, Illinois at 68%, Texas at 63%, Rhode Island at 63%, and Alabama at 62%. Several of those states (Alabama, Illinois, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Texas) require students to fill out the FAFSA in order to graduate high school.

States with the lowest FAFSA completion rates include Alaska at 35%, Utah at 38%, Oklahoma at 43%, Florida at 46%, Idaho at 46%, and Arizona at 47%.

“There's more for states and schools to do to make sure each student who can benefit gets connected to available financial aid,” Bill DeBaun, senior director of data and strategic initiatives at NCAN and one of the report's authors, said in a statement. “The FAFSA is an important step, but not the only one. FAFSA completion signals a student's intent to enroll, and supportive systems that connect students with the advising they want and need also make a big difference in their postsecondary plans."

This is the second year NCAN has conducted an analysis of unclaimed Pell Grants. Last year’s report found more than 1.65 million high school graduates nationally did not fill out the FAFSA, a 57% completion rate. Additionally, the class of 2021 left nearly $3.75 billion in Pell Grants unclaimed. 

Between the classes of 2021 and 2022, $7.33 billion in Pell Grants have been left unclaimed. The unclaimed dollars from these two high school classes each represent about 14% of annual Pell Grant expenditures, NCAN estimates. 

NCAN points to the pandemic as one reason behind the significant decline in FAFSA completions. Without completing the FAFSA, NCAN warns, students have no opportunity to receive a Pell Grant or other federal financial aid.

The report makes several recommendations on how to improve FAFSA completion among high school students, including “universal” FAFSA completion policies, FAFSA data sharing, using COVID-19 relief funding for college and career readiness initiatives for students, and the implementation of the FAFSA Simplification Act. 

The report calls on policymakers, district and school personnel, and community organizations to improve and create initiatives for students around college and career readiness. Initiatives can help more eligible students claim their Pell Grant, pursue a postsecondary education, and receive a degree or credential. 

“By promoting FAFSA completion and postsecondary enrollment, our nation can also make equitable steps to advancing economic opportunity and security for more Americans,” the report states. “This work is extremely critical, as our country continues to recover from the pandemic, which will have enduring consequences for the college access and success prospects of future graduating classes.”


Publication Date: 2/1/2023

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