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COVID is letting up. But the sharp decline in Pa. students applying for federal college aid remains

Penn State

Across Pennsylvania, FAFSA applications are down by more than 30,000 compared to this time last year, and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, or PHEAA, is alarmed by the sharp decline in submissions to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

PHEAA vice president Elizabeth McCloud is concerned about this 10% decline in FAFSA applications. She said school financial aid offices indicated many students delayed enrolling in college or opted out altogether due to the pandemic.

“They weren’t interested in studying online, they’ve talked about students having issues where they didn’t have the necessary technology to be studying online during the pandemic or had other responsibilities,” McCloud said.

McCloud said they hoped FAFSA applications would pick up once in-person classes resumed, but data shows only 2% of students who didn’t enroll for college in fall 2020 decided to enroll in fall 2021.

She said schools have told PHEAA that students might be opting for well-paid jobs that do not require a college degree.

“That looks really appealing in the short-term and they’re maybe not thinking as long term about the impact of not pursuing a post high school degree,” McCloud said.

PHEAA Vice Chairman and Pennsylvania State Senator Wayne Fontana said high demand for blue collar jobs could be deterring high school students from pursuing a college degree.

“Parents, I think, are becoming more and more aware of that and there are other alternatives to the four-year degree or even a two-year degree,” Fontana said.

McCloud said a decline in students pursuing a college degree could worsen labor shortages and the long-term financial stability of the state.

The deadline to apply to the FAFSA this year is June 30.