Indiana’s FAFSA Closes April 15. Can the State Still Meet Its Application Goal?

State officials are aiming for at least 60% of Hoosier high school seniors to submit the federal financial aid form.

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Just one week out from Indiana’s deadline for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, the latest data shows only about one-third of Hoosier high school seniors have completed the form.

That’s despite a new state law that took effect last year requiring all graduating seniors to complete the FAFSA or affirmatively opt out of filing by April 15.

The National College Attainment Network’s FAFSA completion tracker shows that 33.8% of the 2024 class had submitted the form as of March 29, equal to 30,109 Indiana high school seniors. That’s nearly 6,000 fewer Hoosier student submissions than at the same time last year, and slightly below the completion rate of 35% for this year’s high school class nationwide.

Still, officials with Indiana’s Commission for Higher Education (CHE) remain confident that they’ll meet their goal of having 60% of high school seniors submit their FAFSA by the priority deadline. Students can still file after April 15, but state financial aid will be distributed on a first come, first serve basis.

“We are hopeful,” said Allison Kuehr, CHE’s associate commissioner for marketing and communications, noting that other data shows improvement “which is a great sign for potentially meeting that 60% goal.”

Bumps in the road

The decrease in the number of 2024 FAFSA filings is a nationwide trend, with only about 35% of high school seniors submitting the FAFSA form across the country as of March 15, marking a 27% drop, according to the National College Attainment Network.

Nearly 48% of graduating 2023 high school seniors across Indiana, specifically, completed FAFSA last school year, according to data from CHE.

Kuehr suggested two factors have led to the decline in financial aid applications.

In years prior, FAFSA became available Oct. 1. Changes to the application last year — meant to simplify the submission process — delayed its opening until late December and likely caused the lag of submissions.

CHE previously got FAFSA completion data a few weeks after the application launched in October and would get updates from the federal government “almost immediately” during the monthslong submission window, Kuehr said. This year, Indiana officials didn’t receive data until last month, and they’re still “ingesting” those numbers, she added.

Hiccups with the federal government’s rollout of the updated, streamlined FAFSA form have also further complicated matters and delayed when many students will receive their financial aid offer, Kuehr said.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education indicated that about 330,000 federal financial aid applications will need to be reprocessed following the latest FAFSA complications.

Of the over 6.6 million FAFSAs submitted in the current cycle, about 5% contained tax data errors that would make students eligible for less financial aid than they are entitled to, according to the education department. The agency is expected to begin reprocessing these applications in the first half of April.

“While we do not have enough information to do an exact calculation, from all the information that we have received, we anticipate that as many as 20% of the students that we have received information from so far will be impacted and will need to be reprocessed,” Kuehr said of the expected impact, which represents at least 6,000 Hoosier students.

Given the issues and delays, multiple Indiana colleges and universities pushed back their admissions deadlines, including Indiana University Bloomington and Purdue University West Lafayette, which both extended their deadlines to May 15.

Millions in aid still up for grabs

Even so, Kuehr pointed to “success” already prompted by Senate Enrolled Act 167, signed into law last year.

The measure, which made FAFSA a requirement in Indiana, was promoted by Republican Sen. Jean Leising of Oldenburg as a way to get more students to apply for federal aid, given that Hoosier students left at least $65 million in potential federal aid unclaimed in 2022.

CHE and other state officials have long supported ongoing efforts to increase FAFSA submissions — part of an effort to boost the number of students who pursue some form of higher education.

The new law made Indiana the eighth state to have some type of FAFSA filing mandate for high schoolers. There are no penalties if a student fails to submit the application, however.

“(The law) requires high schools to make at least two reasonable attempts at providing students with information about the FAFSA before being able to broadly opt students out, so there has been a concerted statewide effort to increase awareness and participation in FAFSA completion,” Kuehr said. “A level of these efforts have always existed prior to the new law, but this year, there is a definite push.”

CHE is spearheading other efforts to increase the number of FAFSA submissions, too, including the coordinated mailing of “pre-admission” thousands of letters to Hoosier students from Indiana’s higher education intuitions.

Kuehr emphasized that CHE also sends “almost daily email reminders to students to file as a countdown to the deadline.” The commission is additionally partnering with the Indiana Latino Institute and INvestEd to host Facebook Live events and answer common questions about the FAFSA in both English and Spanish.

Across the state, CHE outreach coordinators are in schools and communities to provide one-on-one assistance, Kuehr said.

And with filing rates for low-income and underrepresented students especially low — only 28.5% of students from those groups submitting their FAFSA form, lower than the overall state and nationwide rates — Kuehr said CHE is making intentional outreach to students who are part of the 21st Century Scholars program, which provides low-income students in Indiana with tuition and fees fully covered if they attend an in-state college or university.

“Outside of the commission, we know school counselors and higher education institutions are providing their own FAFSA nights for students and parents to receive help,” she said, also noting that INvestEd will continue to host FAFSA nights around Indiana. “It truly is an all-hands effort.”

Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Indiana Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Niki Kelly for questions: info@indianacapitalchronicle.com. Follow Indiana Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

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