What 2024 enrollment looks like after FAFSA setbacks

By Grace Bertrand

In light of the U.S. Department of Education’s launch of a revamped Free Application for Federal Student Aid in December 2023, technical glitches and issues have rolled out, causing university student enrollment across the nation to suffer. 

FAFSA setbacks 

Rider Vice President of Enrollment Management Drew Aromando announced in expectation for fall 2024 that deposits from current undergraduates are down 24%. This trend is occurring for colleges all across the nation. The question is: why? 

Promising an easier way for students to access additional money for college, the new FAFSA has been anything but.

Many families who have completed the FAFSA have reported inaccurate aid estimates due to the organization’s incorrect formula and delayed data processing.

This data is how schools like Rider calculate how much financial aid they can offer to families paying for schooling. 

After many delays, the USDOE released a statement announcing that financial aid offices will not receive FAFSA data until at least mid-March, with families not receiving financial aid packages until at least April. 

According to Assistant Vice President for Academic Success and Student Financial Services James Conlon, it takes about six weeks just to take the data FAFSA provides and produce award letters for families. 

As a result, most schools have waived or extended their deadlines to accommodate for the delayed financial aid results. 

Rider has extended its FAFSA filing priority deadline to March 1 and temporarily suspended its May 1 deposit deadline, waiting to set a new one until they have more information. 

“It’s sort of a give and take between, ‘We’re gonna be here for you’ and ‘No matter what we’re gonna help you navigate through the process, but we still have to hold you to timelines,’” Aromando explained. 

2024 enrollment 

Despite the FAFSA setbacks, Aromando reported that new-student recruitment has remained strong, with the final January term enrollment achieving 103.6% of the university’s Path Forward Plan, a multiyear initiative intended to pull Rider out of its financial crisis. 

Turning to the upcoming school year, undergraduate applications have jumped 13%, equaling 1,042 applications as of Feb. 9. Admitted students are also up 11%, totaling 610 students.

Last semester, in an interview with The Rider News about 2023 enrollment, Aromando reported that Rider’s fall-to-fall retention rate was 80.6%, surpassing the university’s Path Forward goal of 80.1% and breaking the record for retention rates at Rider. 

In the recent fall-to-spring report, the new-student retention rate is on target at 92.4%, aiming at a goal of 92.5%. 

This spring semester, student enrollment was close to meeting its goal by 99.3%, with graduate enrollment exceeding its goal and undergraduate enrollment falling just short of it. 

Looking ahead to what the fall-to-fall retention rate will look like for next year, Aromando and Conlon are hopeful that Rider will remain on par with its goal. 

In an interview with The Rider News last month, Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo disclosed: “It’s still early in the process for next year’s freshman class, first-year students – freshmen and transfers – but all the indicators right now are very strong.” 

‘The Rider experience’ 

“The Rider experience” is what undoubtedly sets the university apart from other colleges students are looking at, according to Aromando.

He described it as the “very strong and unique distinguishing selling point from other institutions.”  

However, not having access to financial aid packages has greatly impacted students’ interest in visiting and attending any college campuses across the country, including Rider.

In efforts to attract more students, the university has encouraged student life events like Admitted Students Days, open houses and Financial Aid Fridays as a means of persuading them to enroll. 

“We really truly need the rest of the university to be good partners and good stewards and keep those families interested in Rider while we navigate this challenging experience for them,” Aromando said. 

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