ED: Most Freshmen Apply to Just One School, FAFSA Data Indicate

By Allie Bidwell, Communications Staff

The majority of incoming college freshmen who fill out the FAFSA list just one school to send their financial aid application – a sign that they applied to only one school for admission, according to last week’s quarterly data release from the Department of Education (ED).

In total, more than two-thirds of freshmen (68 percent) who filled out the 2014-15 FAFSA listed only one college. While that’s an improvement from the 80 percent who did so in 2008-09, the number is still a blow for an administration that has centered much of its education platform on making it easier for students to gain access to higher education.

The Obama administration has taken several steps, for example, to simplify the FAFSA application, a more than 100-question form that many have said is a deterrent to some students. In September, the administration announced it would allow for the use of prior-prior year income data on the FAFSA application, in order to allow students to apply for and receive notice of financial aid sooner.

But by applying to just one school, students may be limiting their financial aid options, ED said.

“By focusing on only one school, students run the risk of being turned down for admission or losing out on better financial aid and educational opportunities from another school, with ramifications that can last a lifetime,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in a statement. “That one school might be the right fit, but why take a chance? Why not consider multiple schools and increase your options and opportunities?”

The quarterly data also includes information on outstanding loan balances and borrowers by loan type, repayment plan, and delinquency status, among other reports.

Borrower enrollment in different income-driven repayment plans has continued to increase as of September 2015, the data show. In the last year, the number of direct loan borrowers enrolled in IDR plans increased 50 percent, now totaling to more than 4.2 million borrowers.

But the data also showed the number of borrowers in default has increased in the last year, from about 7.1 million, to 7.6 million. As of September, 3.3 million Direct Loan borrowers and 4.3 million Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program borrowers were in default, meaning they hadn’t made a payment on their student loans in more than 270 days. That’s up from 2.3 million Direct Loan borrowers who were in default a year ago, and slightly down from the 4.4 million FFEL borrowers in default in September 2014.

Recently, ED released data showing that the national three-year cohort default rate – the percentage of borrowers who default within three years of entering repayment – decreased from 13.7 percent to 11.8 percent. It’s unclear whether the climbing default numbers for all borrowers are a sign that more borrowers default after the cohort monitoring period, or whether some may be entering default for a subsequent time.

ED’s Office of Federal Student Aid said when it released the quarterly data that it is exploring how to provide more detail on student loan default data, due to growing interest. In the next year, FSA plans to release data sets about both new defaults, as well as “re-defaults,” according to an announcement posted on the Information for Financial Aid Professionals website.

“In the future, we hope to further expand the default section of our site to include information on collections, rehabilitated loans, and aging of the portfolio,” the announcement said.


Publication Date: 11/24/2015

Ann B | 11/24/2015 10:3:27 AM

I agree with Rebecca. Wasn't being more "transparent" and giving students an earlier idea of their aid eligibility one of the main purposes of the required Net Price Calculator? Was it not assumed that knowing earlier might mean a student will rule some schools out earlier? Perhaps the number will increase again with the filing date of 10/1 - a point at which most students are still undecided.

Rebecca S | 11/24/2015 9:12:16 AM

I'm not sure it makes sense to infer that a student has only applied to one college, because they only list one school on the FAFSA. Depending on the admissions categories and timelines at the schools to which the student applies, they may already have a good idea of the aid available to them (and their admission status) by the time they complete the FAFSA. If the schools have been able to complete an informed estimate of aid eligibility, and the family has compared the results prior to their FAFSA filing, why would the student feel the need to list more than one school? It seems ED is making a leap, without considering the schools using other application processes to create need-based aid estimates before the FAFSA is even available.

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