Fewer Atlanta students completing FAFSA means possible drop in college enrollment

Fewer metro Atlanta high school students completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid—or FAFSA— during the 2020-21 school year, according to a new analysis from education non-profit Learn 4 Life. The organization says the four percent drop (equivalent to 1100 students) could indicate a decrease in college enrollment.

Students who want to receive any federal aid for college must fill out FAFSA. It’s a long and complicated form that asks for a lot of financial information. So, most students need an adult to help guide them through the process.

“In this moment, FAFSA is more important than ever, and less kids are completing it,” says Ken Zeff, the executive director of Learn 4 Life. He says students in high-poverty schools saw the greatest decline in completion rates.

“College is less affordable, financial pressures on low-income kids have never been higher,” Zeff says. “Resources exist. Kids are not able to access those resources because they haven’t been able to navigate this process.”

Nationally, FAFSA completion rates fell about three percent last year. That means 250,000 fewer students filled out the form in 2020-21 than they did in 2019-20. Learn 4 Life estimates that left $2.6 billion in federal financial aid on the table.

When students were remote during the pandemic, it was harder for some to meet with guidance counselors and advisors to help with the FAFSA process. To increase FAFSA completion rates, Learn 4 Life is partnering with United Way and The Scholarship Academy Services to train volunteers to assist students with their applications.

“The same way that we’re being intentional about diagnosing early grade literacy challenges and interrupted learning that’s happened in the pandemic, we need to do the same thing around this end of the continuum,” he says.