5 Things Colleges Can Do Right Now to Impact Fall 2024 Enrollment

The ongoing FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) delays have left students with less time to compare financial aid offers and make a college decision than in a typical year. In response, many colleges have postponed their commitment and financial aid deadlines for the 2024–25 academic year. According to the US Department of Education, about 330,000 federal financial aid applications will need to be reprocessed following yet another data error. This development continues a tumultuous cycle of glitches and technical difficulties with the updated “Better” FAFSA that are having profound domino effects on a student’s ability to access education and an institution’s ability to enroll them.

Here are five things you can do right now to stay focused and positively impact your Fall 2024 enrollment pipeline:

1. Stay in contact with your prospects.

Be a trusted voice that minimizes their confusion. Despite the turbulence experienced with the (not really better) Better FAFSA, the goal should be to avoid deterring college access. There is no doubt about it—students are confused, and they are questioning whether college is obtainable without financial help.

  • Let students and families know that they can make corrections to their FAFSA starting the week of April 15–19, 2024.
  • Encourage prospective students to complete the FAFSA despite the difficulties. As of this post, completion rates are down 40% year over year, a devastating drop.
  • Be proactive and consistently communicate with your students and families, especially leading up to institution commitment deadlines.
  • Encourage your prospects to be communicative about their plans, particularly by acknowledging the fact that they are navigating FAFSA errors that may place constraints on their college decisions.

2. Give them options.

Empathy is important here. Yes, an admissions officer wants prospects to enroll at their institution, but offering alternatives for those who may be uncomfortable committing right now due to financial uncertainty goes a long way in the mind of a student.

  • If a student is really in a college decision bind without a financial aid decision, recommend alternate pathways like enrolling in a community college to help lower the overall cost of their education. They will be more inclined to consider your institution as their next step if you help them navigate this tumultuous time.
  • Do not encourage them to skip college for the year. Students delaying education due to financial concerns—as opposed to those taking structured gap years—are less likely to enroll or graduate later.

3. Provide flexibility.

Wherever possible, offer flexibility to your incoming classes, particularly as it pertains to obtaining FAFSA-related data.

  • Are there questions on your enrollment or scholarship applications that can be omitted or—if they’ve traditionally been required—can they be optional?
  • Can you identify at-risk students who may not be able to enroll without financial support that would come from federal funding?
  • Does your scholarship management system empower you to match students to awards prior to enrollment?
  • Does your advancement team have access to unrestricted funding that can be allocated to students who have demonstrated an enrollment risk if funding isn’t available?
  • Does your institution have emergency aid that can be utilized to support students at risk for not enrolling without financial support?
  • Can you offer deadline extensions for enrollment decisions or scholarships en masse or situationally?

4. Simplify the experience.

If there are financial resources or scholarship opportunities that do NOT rely on FAFSA information to be considered, share these with your prospective students!

  • Consider offering office hours so students and families can meet with an enrollment or financial aid expert for guidance and to address pressing questions.
  • Point students to financial aid resources you know are intuitive and unambiguous, especially if they are geared towards policies or procedures your institution has implemented to help them navigate financial aid complexities.
  • Share the SAI (Student Aid Index) Estimator tool to fact check their FAFSAs. Many students have already submitted their FAFSAs, but a healthy number of applications have errors. If they’re concerned about the validity of the information, share this estimator to compare what information they’ve received.

5. Stay informed to keep them informed.

To truly help your students and positively impact enrollment at your institution, you need to stay up to date on the ever-changing FAFSA saga. There are many resources available, some for admissions personnel and some for families and students. Bookmark these pages:

While the intent of the “Better FAFSA” was to increase college access, it appears to be having the opposite effect. That’s why it is critical for admissions, scholarship, and financial aid administrators to be proactive and keep prospective students engaged and informed.