Indiana’s FAFSA deadline looms, State pushing to meet application target

With Indiana’s deadline for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, fast approaching in just one week, the latest figures reveal that only approximately a third of Hoosier high school seniors have successfully submitted the form.

This is in spite of a recently enacted state law mandating that all graduating seniors either complete the FAFSA or formally opt out by April 15.

The National College Attainment Network’s FAFSA completion tracker reports that as of March 29, 30,109 Indiana high school seniors from the class of 2024, representing 33.8% of students, have filed the form. This number is nearly 6,000 lower than the tally at the same point last year and slightly below the 35% completion rate for seniors nationwide this year.

Despite the shortfall, authorities at Indiana’s Commission for Higher Education (CHE) express optimism about reaching the target of 60% of high school seniors submitting their FAFSA by the priority deadline. While submissions are accepted after April 15, state financial aid allocation operates on a first-come, first-served basis.

“We are hopeful,” affirmed Allison Kuehr, CHE’s associate commissioner for marketing and communications, highlighting progress in other data as a positive indicator for achieving the 60% objective.

Obstacles and Decline

A decline in FAFSA submissions for the 2024 school year is a prevailing trend nationwide, with a mere 35% of high school seniors completing the form across the country as of March 15, marking a 27% decrease, according to the National College Attainment Network.

During the last school year, nearly 48% of Indiana’s graduating 2023 seniors finalized their FAFSA submissions, as per CHE’s data.

Kuehr identified two contributing factors to the faltering financial aid applications.

In previous years, FAFSA was accessible from October 1. However, modifications made last year to streamline the application process led to a delayed launch in late December, likely causing the decrease in submissions.

Previously, CHE received FAFSA completion updates swiftly after the application opened in October, whereas this year, Indiana officials only obtained the data last month, and they are still processing these figures, Kuehr explained.

The federal government’s rollout of the revised, simplified FAFSA form has encountered hurdles, complicating matters further and affecting the timing of financial aid offers, Kuehr added.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Education revealed that approximately 330,000 federal financial aid applications will require reprocessing due to the latest FAFSA complications.

Out of the over 6.6 million FAFSAs submitted in the ongoing cycle, roughly 5% contained tax data errors potentially resulting in reduced financial aid eligibility for students, according to the education department. The agency intends to start reprocessing these applications in early April.

“Though we lack precise calculations, based on available information, we anticipate that up to 20% of the students we’ve heard from so far may be affected and necessitate reprocessing,” Kuehr stated, representing at least 6,000 Hoosier students.

Given the challenges and delays, several Indiana universities, including Indiana University Bloomington and Purdue University West Lafayette, have extended their admission deadlines to May 15.

Significant Aid Opportunities

Kuehr highlighted the positive outcomes already observed following the enactment of Senate Enrolled Act 167 last year.

The legislation, making FAFSA mandatory in Indiana, was championed by Republican Sen. Jean Leising of Oldenburg to boost federal aid applications, as Hoosier students missed out on at least $65 million in potential aid in 2022.

Alongside other state officials, CHE consistently supports endeavors to enhance FAFSA submissions as part of broader initiatives to increase the number of students pursuing higher education.

While no penalties exist for non-submission, the new law positions Indiana as the eighth state to mandate some form of FAFSA filing for high school students.

“The law requires high schools to offer FAFSA information at least twice before considering broad opt-outs, leading to a concerted statewide drive to enhance awareness and participation in completing FAFSA,” Kuehr noted. “Though previous efforts existed, this year sees a definitive push.”

In addition to coordinating mass mailings of informational letters to thousands of Hoosier students from Indiana’s higher education institutions, CHE maintains a continuous email countdown to the deadline to encourage filing.

CHE collaborates with the Indiana Latino Institute and INvestEd to host bilingual Facebook Live events, addressing common FAFSA queries in English and Spanish, while outreach coordinators are active in schools and communities statewide to offer personalized assistance.

Notably, with FAFSA submission rates notably lower for low-income and underrepresented students, standing at just 28.5% for this demographic, CHE focuses on reaching out to 21st Century Scholars program participants, who are eligible for full coverage of tuition and fees at in-state colleges or universities.

Beyond the commission, school counselors and higher education institutions conduct FAFSA information nights for students and parents, bolstering the statewide initiatives, Kuehr highlighted.

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