Drop in FAFSA renewals shows lingering college retention problems

The number of Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms submitted for the 2022-23 academic year fell by 8.9% as of March 31 compared to a year ago, even as the number of new filings increased, Higher Ed Dive reports.

New data from the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) finds that new FAFSA fillings increased 3.9% year-over-year among current high school seniors through April 8. According to the network, the increase in new filings was driven by high schools serving Black, Latinx, and low-income students and by FAFSA completion mandates in states like Texas and Alabama, both of which saw filings increase by more than 20% over the previous year.

However, the increases were not enough to raise the overall FAFSA completion rate, which was dragged down by a drop in renewals, evidence that “far fewer students than anticipated may arrive on campus during the 2022-23 academic year,” says NCAN.

Significant drops in renewals

According to NCAN, 880,831 currently enrolled college students did not renew FAFSA forms for the next year, a decline of 12.3% compared to last year. Additionally, 545,667 fewer Pell Grant-eligible, low-income students renewed their FAFSA applications, a drop of 15.6% compared to last year and a 19.2% decline from the pre-pandemic 2019-20 cycle. 

No state reported any year-over-year increases in FAFSA renewals; the average state decline was 12.5%, while Indiana reported the steepest fall at 17.7%. Overall, this data is “very bad news in the short term for college student retention, persistence, and completion rates,” says NCAN.

Related: FAFSA: Completions decline, verification temporarily relaxed >

The network suggests that a hot job market and rising wages are luring students away from college, and disruptions from COVID-19 may have made college less attractive in the short term. Additionally, more high schools are focused on attending to students’ learning loss and mental health, sidelining college preparation, according to Higher Ed Dive.

To stem continued enrollment declines, NCAN suggests K-12 schools and colleges use federal pandemic relief dollars to fund programs that encourage students to pursue higher education to reduce the likelihood that high school graduates will pause their education and lose interest in continuing.

Topics in this story

Next Up

Mental health, cost concerns driving students away from higher ed, report shows

New survey results show why college students are stopping out, pointing to emotional stress as a growing challenge.