INDIANAPOLIS — A lot of high school seniors could miss out on much-needed cash for college this year.
Educators worry about a troubling trend that shows a significant decrease in the number of federal financial aid applications completed in Indiana, just a month before the deadline.
Even more concerning: Low-income students are most affected.
At Crispus Attucks High School, senior Emeri McCann is a stellar student, ready to launch her future next fall.
"She's an amazing young lady. She's one of my superstars," said McCann's guidance counselor, Arnold Mickens, Sr.
McCann will attend DePauw University in Greencastle to study to become an OBGYN. She made sure her family could afford tuition, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — or FAFSA — right away.
"The first day it was available for us in October, me and a few of my friends went straight to the library and filled it out," McCann said. "Being able to have that financial aid, that foundation to be able to go to college is something very important, so they definitely pushed that to the forefront of our minds to make sure that we did it."
But a lot of graduating seniors have not done so yet, becoming part of a worrisome trend nationwide and here in Indiana. For the class of 2021 in Indiana, the number of FAFSA filings is down 10.6% as of Feb. 28.
FAFSA completions are down 19.7% for low-income seniors, who are eligible for federal Pell grants. The FAFSA is key for scholarships, loans, work-study and grants for colleges, community colleges and technical schools.
The deadline to file, April 15, is less than a month away.
"It's important for people to know that Indiana is a very generous state when it comes to financial aid," said Teresa Lubbers, Indiana's commissioner for higher education. "We distribute about $350 million a year and we are leaving millions of dollars unused — both state and federal — because people are not completing the FAFSA and that's required. It would be such a tragedy if those who need the financial aid the most don't complete the FAFSA."
Why the decrease?
Educators say the pandemic created a disconnect between students and school — fewer in-person connections with counselors to guide students through the filing process.
Plus, a lot of the usual big financial aid events didn't happen this year.
Counselor Mickens is redoubling efforts to help.
"We have to serve the students and we have to meet them where they are," Mickens said. "We have to get them this information. They deserve the information. This pandemic has given a lot of our seniors the mindset 'out of sight, out of mind' but we don't stay out of sight. We don't stay out of mind. I mean, we call them weekly if not daily. I mean we do senior meetings. We do senior town hall meetings. We do home visits."
His message to families right now: "Get it done. It's so important and we don't want students not able to accomplish their goals because paperwork is not done."
Lubbers echoed that sentiment.
"Don't take a chance! Fill out, have your family fill it out," Lubbers said.
McCann got scholarships to DePauw and said filling out the FAFSA is helping her pay fees.
Educators now want to make sure no senior misses out on money for their future. They say it's important to fill out those FAFSA forms, even if your senior isn't sure if they're going to college and no matter your income.
Almost everyone who applies qualifies for something.
There are two virtual FAFSA filing events to help families before the April 15 deadline. They're on Facebook, so you can just watch and learn from home, without any type of registration.
- Saturday, March 27, 2021 12-1 p.m. (ET)
- Tuesday, April 13, 2021 6:30-7:30 p.m. (ET)
Students and families can also always get FAFSA help by calling INvestEd at 317-715-9007.