Significant gaps in FAFSA completion widen since before the pandemic, particularly among schools serving students from low-income backgrounds

by | Mar 15, 2022 | Press Release

NEW YORK – Even as high schools across New York returned to school in person this year, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion rate continues to lag behind pre-pandemic levels, particularly at schools that serve the largest shares of students from low-income backgrounds, according to an analysis released today by The Education Trust–New York. 

Statewide, the FAFSA completion rate at the end of February was down 1 percentage point from the same time last year and 5 percentage points since the end of February 2020, before the pandemic forced school closures. 

The gap in the February 2022 completion rate compared to before the pandemic also persists, particularly among schools serving the largest shares of students from low-income backgrounds (8 percentage points) compared to schools serving the smallest shares of students from low-income backgrounds (2 percentage points).  

Among additional findings from the analysis: 


   End of February FAFSA Completion Rates by Quintile, 2019-2022  
Percent of students from low-income backgrounds   2019   2020   2021   2022  
Schools that serve the smallest shares of students who are from low-income backgrounds (0% to 20%)    59%   61%   61%   59%  
More than 20% to 40%    53%   54%   53%   50%  
More than 40% to 60%    48%   49%   44%   44%  
More than 60% to 80%    48%   49%   45%   43%  
Schools that serve the largest shares of students who are from low-income backgrounds (more than 80%)    47%   50%   40%   42%  
Statewide Average   51%   52%   48%   47%  


The findings of the analysis highlight the critical need to support students with FAFSA completion and come as Ed Trust–NY relaunches its online FAFSA Completion Tracker, which allows users to track FAFSA completion rates for schools across New York. 

Ed Trust–NY, in partnership with education organizations across the state, also released an updated version of the  Financial Aid for College: High School Toolkit  with strategies to support high schools in helping all students complete financial aid applications before the end of the school year.   

“The gap in FAFSA completion rates since prior to the pandemic is alarming and should serve as a call to action for high schools and community-based organizations to better support students and their families in accessing financial aid for college,” said Dr. Dia Bryant, executive director of The Education Trust–New York. “Higher education and lack of access to financial aid should not become a barrier. We hope these resources will equip schools with new tools to support their efforts.” 

The updated resources are part of Ed Trust–NY’s New York FAFSA Completion Project, which provides resources to schools to assist with FAFSA completion and highlights promising practices being used across the state to assist families with FAFSA completion. 

“HESC is proud to partner with The Education Trust–New York on the release of this toolkit to help schools prepare students to take the steps necessary to pursue a higher education and encourage FAFSA completion,” said Dr. Guillermo Linares, president of the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation. “Students who complete the FAFSA application, especially for those from low-income families or first-generation college students who often face barriers to college, have an increased chance of enrolling in college and obtaining access to financial aid dollars that help remove financial barriers.” 

The New York FAFSA Completion Project aims to provide easily accessible resources including: 

  • An interactive data tool that allows users to track the progress of New York high schools, with new FAFSA completion estimates updated weekly and comparisons to similar schools and top performers. 
  • Resources for schools and educators on how they can assist more eligible students in completing the FAFSA, drawing on national research and best practices already being used in New York schools. 
  • The New York FAFSA Completion Challenge, which will recognize schools for high FAFSA completion rates and for improvements in FAFSA completion rates. Twelve awards will be granted to schools across the state. Each award will consist of $750 granted to the winning high schools for the purpose of providing a scholarship to one of its students. 

Explore data for each high school in the state, read more about FAFSA completion strategies being used at New York schools, and find additional resources at Complete Challenge rules can be found here.