San Antonio/ Politics & Govt
AI Assisted Icon
Published on June 21, 2024
Texas Sees Sharp Decline in FAFSA Application Completion Amid Financial Aid Process OverhaulSource: Wikipedia/US Federal Government, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In Texas, the gates to higher education are becoming increasingly harder to unlatch for high school graduates, as the latest numbers suggest a dip in financial aid applications following a snafu in the roll-out of the revamped Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). According to the Texas Tribune, through June 7, there has been almost 30,000 fewer Texas students who completed the FAFSA compared with last year—a drop of 8.8 percentage points. This troubling trend exceeds even the downturn observed during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bill DeBaun, the senior director of data and strategic initiatives at the National College Attainment Network, said in a statement obtained by the Texas Tribune, "These are by far the steepest declines that I have observed." He added, "It's going to take a really significant push this summer to continue to connect students with the FAFSA completion support they need and keep them on track for the post-secondary pathways to which they aspire." The complications with the FAFSA have not only delayed financial aid awards by colleges but also led to a starker contrast in decline, predominantly affecting students from communities of color and low-income backgrounds slightly more, hindering the access of the very individuals this aid is purported to help the most.

The revamp of FAFSA mandated by Congress in 2020, aimed at simplifying the process; however, the new form's tardy introduction, three months into the application cycle, coupled with persisting technical issues, complicated matters for students and counselors alike. With a high percentage of them being first-generation college applicants, these difficulties when navigating the supposedly streamlined process fueled additional barriers to entry. Bryan Ashton, the managing director of Trellis Strategies, stated in an interview with the Texas Tribune, “There was a lot of messaging about how complex [the new FAFSA] is, and so in predominantly first generation communities, if you already have some apprehension about the complexity of the process and filling out the form, and you continue to hear how complex it is this year, and that it's broken … That narrative could have played into it,”

The Texas high school class of 2022 left on the table an estimated $390 million in Pell Grant money by not completing the FAFSA, as reported by Trellis Strategies. This scenario intimates a bleak economical roadmap for students who, despite potential acceptance into colleges, may yet falter at the cost hurdles awaiting them. Despite these challenges, a Texas law mandating seniors to complete the FASFA, the Texas Application for State Financial Aid, or sign an opt-out form to graduate has buoyed Texas to one of the highest completion rates in the nation. However, the concerns of higher education officials about the potential increase in the "summer melt," where students accepted into college fall through the cracks and fail to matriculate, loom large as the summer session approaches.