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Fewer Student-Aid Applications Could Mean Less College Enrollment

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Thursday, February 25, 2021   

INDIANAPOLIS -- New data show a big drop of just over 9% in the number of Indiana students applying for federal student aid this year, and experts say that could mean a big red flag for college enrollment.

The National College Attainment Network tracks the "Free Application For Federal Student Aid" (FAFSA).

They found application rates are even worse for students of color or in lower-income families.

MorraLee Keller, director of technical assistance for the Network, said Indiana colleges could be looking at much smaller freshman classes.

"If the FAFSAs are already running just under 10% behind, and FAFSAs are a very strong indicator about the likelihood to enroll in college, we may be getting set up for another significant drop in college enrollment this fall," Keller projected.

She speculated many students are holding off, waiting to hear whether their preferred college will offer in-person instruction next semester.

Another report, from the National Student Clearinghouse, said colleges across the U.S. enrolled about 20% fewer students last fall.

Keller noted only about 36% of Indiana high school seniors have filled out their FAFSA so far.

"That puts you at about 30th in the country," Keller explained. "And I think we're all much more used to a number around 55%, 60%, 65% of the graduating class enrolling somewhere."

High schools and colleges are working to reach out and reengage the Class of 2020 and ensure a smooth transition for the Class of 2021.

Students should contact their preferred college or university to find out their FAFSA deadline.

Several state-based grants set a deadline of April 15. They include the Workforce Ready Grant, the Frank O'Bannon Grant, and the 21st Century Scholars Grant.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.


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