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Study: Pandemic has widened the gap between students filing for FAFSA

The top of a blue and white 2022-23 FAFSA application form.

Across New York, fewer young people are filling out the basic tool for receiving financial aid to make college possible, the FAFSA form.

Before the pandemic, there was a difference in the completion rate between high-poverty schools and low-poverty schools. However, the Education Trust-New York study released Tuesday found that difference has widened, as students and families grapple with the disruptions of the pandemic: the more low-income students in a school, the more the FAFSA completion rate drops.

Education Trust Executive Director Dia Bryant said this all shows up in Buffalo, a high-poverty city.

"From February 2020, the rate was 41% completion across the district. In February, 2021, it was 27%. Pretty significant drop. And from '21 to '22, it only went up just a few points, to 33%," she said. "Where it has been made a priority, we've seen jumps, right? If you look at Leonardo daVinci High School, they won our FAFSA challenge twice. And then you look at sort of drops throughout the state and you're wondering, sort of, are we actually prioritizing financial aid for students?"

Bryant said there are a whole series of problems, although many could be helped — even now, with many schools still looking for students, using more guidance counselors to work with students and parents, and there is money in the proposed state budget to do that.

She recognized that students need more help and more advice to understand going through the process.

"Whether college or career or credential, they are fully aware and fully understand what's available to them and the options that they have," she said, "and that is the work that I think that is more important now than ever, after we have the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021 have so many academic interruptions."

Find a link to the Education Trust's FAFSA Tool Kit here, with advice on how to go through the college application process. The Education Trust website also offers research on the completion rate in every New York school.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.