Benjamin Russell High School building

File / The Outlook

To date, 39% of Benjamin Russell High School seniors have completed their FAFSA applications, down from 63% at this time last year, Benjamin Russell guidance counselor Richard Burton said.

Students interested in attending a two- or four-year college must submit FAFSA applications in order to receive federal student financial aid. Most colleges, including Alexander City's Central Alabama Community College, require the form be submitted by March 1 if students want to apply for scholarships.

Burton surmises the lag is a result of uncertainty about the future and "the fact that, for a lot of families right now, that's not a priority."

"A lot of people are at a moment in their lives where they're just trying to do what they need to do each day," he said. "But that's just my own take."  

Benjamin Russell's decline in FAFSA completions from last year may be emulating a nationwide trend. A report earlier this month by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that 1.375 million high school seniors had completed their FAFSA forms by Jan. 29, down about 10% from the same time last year. For students from largely low-income or minority high schools, that margin is even wider.

However, as the March 1 deadline approaches, Burton expects Benjamin Russell's gap to narrow.

"I think it's going to be even-keeled," he said.

Last year, 188 seniors went on to pursue higher education, representing 86% of graduates. Of those 188, one-third were enrolled in a four-year college.

Despite the changes in university education since the pandemic, the school continues to push students towards higher education, Burton said.

"As a school, that's one of the main priorities that we try to stick to — encouraging students to further their education at either two- or four- year colleges," he said. "We still send that message out to the students and parents."