Fewer Texas students seek financial aid for college after this year’s bungled FAFSA rollout

Fewer Texas students seek financial aid for college after this year’s bungled FAFSA rollout
4 weeks 20 hours 50 minutes ago Friday, June 21 2024 Jun 21, 2024 June 21, 2024 10:53 AM June 21, 2024 in News - Texas news
Source: https://www.texastribune.org/
Fewer Texas students have requested financial aid for college compared to last year, FAFSA data shows. The decline comes as this year's release of a revamped version of the form was mired with delays and glitches. Credit: Jenna Watson/IndyStar via REUTERS

Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Many Texas high school graduates are heading into the summer without completing the federal form to request financial aid for college, a critical step that could ultimately determine whether they seek a degree.

The rollout of a revamped Free Application for Federal Student Aid this year has been fraught with complications, making it difficult for students to complete the form and pushing back colleges’ timelines for awarding financial aid.

An analysis of the latest federal data reveals the hurdles have led to fewer high schoolers seeking financial aid for college this year. According to data through June 7, Texas high school graduates’ FAFSA completion rates fell by 8.8 percentage points, or by almost 30,000 students, compared to this time last year. The decline is sharper than the one the state saw in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These are by far the steepest declines that I have observed,” said Bill DeBaun, the senior director of data and strategic initiatives at the National College Attainment Network. “It's going to take a really significant push this summer to continue to connect students with the FAFSA completion support they need and keep them on track for the post-secondary pathways to which they aspire.”

Completing the FAFSA strongly predicts whether a student goes to college. College access experts worry the decline in FAFSA applications this year means fewer students will enroll in college in the fall, especially among low-income communities.

Students that do enroll without completing the FAFSA will likely struggle to succeed in college because of the costs, said Bryan Ashton, the managing director of Trellis Strategies, a nonprofit that tracks postsecondary students’ needs. The Texas high school class of 2022 missed out on $390 million in Pell Grant money by not completing the FAFSA.

Congress ordered the U.S. Education Department to revamp FAFSA in 2020 to make it easier to fill out. However, the new form’s release came three months late this year, narrowing the window of time high school counselors had to help students fill out the form. Many students who completed the form ran into glitches, some of which are still unresolved.

“There was a lot of messaging about how complex [the new FAFSA] is, and so in predominantly first generation communities, if you already have some apprehension about the complexity of the process and filling out the form, and you continue to hear how complex it is this year, and that it's broken … That narrative could have played into it,” Ashton said.

High schools with a large percentage of students of color and students from low-income families experienced slightly larger declines in FAFSA completion rates, according to the National College Attainment Network.

Despite the decline this year, Texas still has one of the highest completion rates in the country. That’s partly because of a state law that went into effect in 2021 and requires high school seniors to fill out the FAFSA, the Texas Application for State Financial Aid or sign an opt-out form to graduate.

As students enter the summer months, higher education leaders also worry the FAFSA challenges will lead to more “summer melt,” a common problem in which students who are accepted to a college enroll but don’t end up attending.

The Texas Tribune partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage.

Disclosure: Trellis Company has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Just in: Former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming; U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pennsylvania; and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt will take the stage at The Texas Tribune Festival, Sept. 5–7 in downtown Austin. Buy tickets today!

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/06/21/texas-fafsa-completion-financial-aid/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

More News

7 Days