In Massachusetts, the traditional May 1 deadline to complete the forms and qualify for state financial aid passed with just 221,021 high school seniors and returning undergraduates submitting applications, down by nearly 10 percent from the previous year. The drop-off was sharpest in April, when nearly 12,000 fewer students than last year had finished their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, as the forms are commonly known.
“However you slice and dice it, it’s a terrible early indicator,” said Carlos Santiago, the Massachusetts commissioner of higher education. “It’s really pretty disturbing.”
Earlier this month, Massachusetts extended its deadline to complete the FAFSA for state aid from May 1 to July 1, in the hopes that it will encourage more students to apply. But even institutions that have seen strong FAFSA completion rates say that this year, it is no guarantee that students will enroll for upcoming classes.
This summer it will be more crucial than ever for college financial aid officers and high school counselors to keep up with students to ensure they are prepared to enroll in the fall, higher education experts said.
Students whose parents have lost their jobs are likely going to feel pressure to save money or go to work instead of enrolling in college, said Robert Dais, Director of Gear Up Massachusetts, a program aimed at helping high school students prepare for college run through the state Department of Higher Education.