The Lead

With a little more than a month to apply, Pa. officials remind students, families to submit FAFSA

By: - March 25, 2022 12:56 pm

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Nearly 31,000 fewer Pennsylvania students — representing a 10.4 percent decline — have submitted the 2022-23 Free Application for Federal Student Aid ahead of the approaching deadline.

The FAFSA is the first step toward determining eligibility for financial aid. And with a May 1 deadline, state education officials on Friday urged students and families to complete the application as soon as possible to qualify for federal and state funding assistance.

“Timing is crucial,” Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Allegheny, told reporters during a virtual briefing. “First-come, first-served. If a student delays or misses a deadline, they could miss out on thousands of dollars in student aid funding.”

Fontana, the vice-chair of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency Board of Directors, estimated that the decline in applications stems from uncertainty about COVID-19 and a statewide decline in overall college enrollment.

“History also shows us that higher education can have a lifelong positive impact on the individual’s health, financial well-being, while also helping to create an educated workforce for our commonwealth,” he added.

May 1 is also the deadline for PHEAA’s State Grant Program, which serves more than 103,000 state students and has provided a maximum $5,000 award during the current academic year.

“We hear a lot about the cost of higher education these days, but a student won’t really know the true cost to attend school for the 2022-23 academic year until they file the FAFSA and received notice from their school of all of the financial aid that they’re eligible to receive toward the cost of their college,” Elizabeth McCloud, PHEAA vice president of state grant and special programs, said.

She added that 76 percent of State Grant recipients also receive a Federal Pell Grant, which offer as much as $6,495 for the current year. Combined with the $5,000 maximum Pennsylvania State Grant award, students could see as much as $11,495 in financial assistance.

“Just imagine what a huge difference that can make to a student,” McCloud said. “Maybe, you know, the difference between their being able to attend college or not, or perhaps is the difference between their being able to achieve a debt-free college experience versus college with a large and unnecessary debt burden and the resulting consequences of having to borrow.”

According to a report by the Institute for College Access and Success, Pennsylvania college graduates have some of the highest student loan debt in the country.

 In Pennsylvania, 64 percent of college graduates said they had student loan debt in 2020, with the average amount being $39,375.

Unlike student loans, the Pennsylvania State Grants do not require repayment. Students and families must file the FAFSA every year a student is attending college and wants to access federal aid.

“The past two years have been challenging for students across Pennsylvania,” McCloud said. “And we want to do everything that we can to ensure that students aren’t passing up on the resources that are available to enroll in and successfully pay for college.”

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