More Seniors Hold Off on College as Aid Applications Dive

Disappointment over distance learning among many high school students appears to have taught seniors who’d normally be college-bound a lot when it comes to making plans for their future.

Applications for student aid from prospective college attendees, a reliable indicator of college admissions, have declined dramatically compared to last year. In the Mankato area, the Free Press found the federal aid form has been filled out by 27 percent fewer students thus far. But the trend extends to students statewide.

The decline is not unique to the area. Statewide FAFSA applications were down by 9% this year. The greatest decline in Minnesota has been at high schools with high minority populations, which had a 20% decrease in applications compared to last year.

Local school counselors say the drop is significant and could be due to students delaying college until classes are in-person again. They also say students may be having a difficult time getting applications done early this year because of challenges brought on by online learning and the strain of the pandemic.

A drop in enrollment spells bad news for higher education, already feeling the financial pinch from the pandemic. Yet high school students rightfully ask why they should take out loans to pay ever higher tuition rates only to attend classes online and be cut off from campus life.

Andrew Vander Linden, a school counselor at East High School, said students may delay going to college because they don’t want to take online classes or miss out on experiences that have been put on hold due to the pandemic.

“I think kids are waiting to see if the world returns to normal,” he said.

He said the decline shows that fewer students may be attending college in the fall, something colleges are worried about after a year of financial losses due to the pandemic.

Many Mankato high schoolers simply skipped the annual college counseling day that was held online, rather than in person.

Vander Linden usually has about 170 students from the graduating class attend the workshop. He often helps students work through their FAFSA applications. Because classes were being held in a hybrid format in October and some students were learning from home, Vander Linden saw far fewer students in the fall. Fewer than 100 students attended the workshop.

Seniors separated from their friends and teachers in their last year in high school had little choice but to go along with distance learning. But at the next level of their education they will be calling the shots and paying the bills. After their often dismal experience with distance learning in high school, no wonder some question the value of attending classes online in college at their own expense.