Colleges are already grappling with empty campuses, the challenges of online learning and concerns about enrollment for the fall semester. Next up: Applications for federal aid from high-school seniors are dropping.
This could mean even more challenges ahead for administrators, as some students appear to be dropping out of the race to get into college as the COVID-19 pandemic ravages the economy and throws millions of people out of work across America.
According to an analysis of federal data from the nonprofit National College Attainment Network, by April 24, financial aid applications were lagging 2.8 percent behind last year. That means 55,582 fewer high-school seniors had submitted applications, per a report in The Wall Street Journal.
Without submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), students can’t get Federal Pell Grants, student loans or most state scholarships and institutional aid.
Such financial aid applications are just not many students’ “first priority right now,” John Bergman, an outreach coordinator with the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, told The Wall Street Journal. “It is finding their next meal. Their friends’ and families’ health. It is that their parents lost their jobs. It is their current classes.”
As reported by PYMNTS, colleges will have to adapt after being forced into the world of online learning due to the pandemic. “COVID-19 is causing issues both for the cost structure of running an educational system, and on the families who are looking to send their kids off to study,” said Flywire CEO Mike Massaro.
He added that schools have to get ready for unwelcome changes, such as possible student enrollment declines or the inability to make tuition payments.
Of course, not all colleges are in the same boat. “There is a huge disconnect between some high-end universities with tens of billions of dollars in endowment, and the state universities and colleges that could be in very different financial situations. It’s not one-size-fits-all,” said Massaro. Looking ahead, he said, universities and colleges may consider expanded and more flexible payment plans.