FAFSA Completion Falls 4.8%

Report says fewer students -- especially low-income and minority students -- are filling out the form.

July 19, 2021
(designer491/Getty Images)

The high school Class of 2021 completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid at a rate 4.8 percent lower than the year before, according to a report being released today by the National College Attainment Network.

Those figures are as of July 2.

An estimated 53.3 percent of the Class of 2021 completed a FAFSA by July 2. But about 102,000 fewer seniors completed a FAFSA this year -- and every indication is that the students who didn't complete this year, but would have in years past, are low income and/or minority. Thus, while competitive colleges are reporting that they received record applications and have good numbers of admitted students pledging to enroll, the numbers could indicate that less competitive colleges could face a second straight difficult year. Last year, the total FAFSA was down 81,000.

Students must complete the FAFSA to access federal grants and loans as well as many types of state and institutional financial aid.

"We warned that FAFSA completion would be bad because we knew it would be bad, and in the end: it’s bad," said Bill DeBaun, director of data and evaluation for NCAN.

In terms of year-over-year completions, the Class of 2021 has trailed the Class of 2020 all cycle. Things were the worst in November when the decline hit 16.8 percent. Since then, the Class of 2021 has made progress, but it has not closed the gap.

Some members of the high school senior class could still apply for aid, but their time to do so before the start of the academic year is shrinking.

The report breaks down which areas are doing better (and worse) than others in FAFSA completion.

  • Among Title I-eligible public high schools, which enroll higher proportions of students from low-income backgrounds, FAFSA completions declined 6.5 percent compared to 3.7 percent for non-Title I-eligible public high schools.
  • For schools with more than 50 percent Black and Latinx students, the decline was 8.1 percent compared to 2.2 percent in schools with less Black and Hispanic enrollment.
  • Public high schools in cities (-6.6 percent) and small towns (-7 percent) declined the most, followed by schools in rural places (-5.5 percent) and suburban high schools (-4.2 percent).

In terms of good news, the survey ranked the states in terms of percentage of the high school senior class that filled out the FAFSA.

Louisiana (73.7 percent) reclaimed the top spot from Tennessee (71.6 percent) with Washington, D.C. (69.3 percent), Illinois (65.7 percent) and New Jersey (64.3 percent) rounding out the top five.

Illinois is the only newcomer to that top five this year.

Share Article

Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

Back to Top