FAFSA top of mind as ‘decision day’ comes and goes

May 1 is typically college decision day across the country, but many high school seniors have not yet received financial aid packages, which ultimately help them decide where to attend, The Washington Post reports. Ongoing delays and technical difficulties have plagued the new, streamlined Free Application for Student Federal Aid (FAFSA) since it was released three months later than usual. A number of students and families have struggled to complete their applications, and processing errors have prompted some colleges to push decision day deadlines past Memorial Day, says NBC News.

Lagging completion rates

The Department of Education has processed 8.3 million of the 8.4 million FAFSAs it has received, according to NBC. However, as of April 19, just 32.9% of the high school Class of 2024 had completed a FAFSA, a 29.1% drop in the number of completions compared with that point last year, according to the National College Attainment Network. In the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, FAFSA completions among Maryland high school seniors are 35% below what they were last year, down 33% in the District, and down almost 30% in Virginia, according to the Post.

The decline in FAFSA completions is even steeper among students from historically underrepresented communities. Around 65% of schools where Black and Latine students make up the majority of the student body have seen FAFSA completion numbers drop by over 36%, according to an analysis of federal data, the Post reports.

“We’re working very hard to keep our families encouraged at a time when so many of these glitches can have them discouraged, in ways that can perpetuate cycles of poverty,” Shavar Jeffries, chief executive of the KIPP Foundation, a nonprofit that supports public charter schools, tells the Post. “Many students are remaining resilient in the midst of these challenges, but for some, it’s reinforcing that college is not for them.”

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona recognized the impact FAFSA delays have had on students and their families during an appropriations subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, according to NBC News. “Our kids deserve better, and we are working around the clock to make sure it improves,” he said.

Efforts to boost FAFSA completion

Students who filled out their FAFSAs and needed to correct them were on hold until mid-April, but the Department of Education says it has now processed more than 800,000 corrections. To catch up to last year’s FAFSA completion numbers, an additional one million graduating seniors would need to complete their applications. Students must complete their FAFSAs by June 30. 

The Education Department says it is close to completing its backlog of applications and that students who complete a FAFSA now will have their data sent to colleges within one to three days, Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal told reporters on Tuesday.

This month, the Department of Education held over 85 in-person events in one week with parent associations, faith-based groups, and community organizations nationwide to help more students complete their FAFSAs. On the first day of its campaign, the department said it received 101,000 new FAFSA submissions, according to the Post.

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