After COVID-19, Sharp Drop in Lowest-Income FAFSA Renewals for 2020-2021

New data shows there has been a sharp drop in FAFSA renewals from lowest-income students as well as overall for the 2020-2021 cycle compared with the year-ago period, suggesting the coronavirus pandemic might impact fall enrollments, said the National College Attainment Network, in a statement Wednesday.071317 Fafsa

The network analyzed federal data showing FAFSA completions from returning applicants between the start of this FAFSA cycle in October and mid-April of this year.

“FAFSA completion is a strong indicator of postsecondary enrollment, so we should carefully monitor FAFSA renewal as a predictor of emerging fall enrollment trends,” said Kim Cook, the network’s executive director, in the statement.

Close to 250,000 fewer returning students from the lowest-income backgrounds have renewed their FAFSA this cycle. And overall, there are 350,000 fewer renewals, which represents a 5% decline from the year-ago period. The network’s analysis showed that, as of February 29, FAFSA completion was 2.3% lower than at the same time last year, but the decline has doubled since February.

“Six weeks and one pandemic later, through April 15, there were 4.7% fewer FAFSA completions this cycle than last,” the network’s statement said. “The downward trend in renewals is deeply troubling and potentially points to students’ uncertainty about how, or whether, to continue on their postsecondary pathways in the fall as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc across nearly every industry. … March’s COVID-19-related upheaval and the subsequent conversion of countless college campuses to virtual instruction accelerated FAFSA completion declines.”