What Sallie Mae’s Study Finds About Online Learning and Free Student Support Apps |

Families and students admit obstacles with FAFSA, find it difficult to plan for life after higher education.

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Every year, loan manager Sallie Mae publishes a study called How America Pays for College which reveals how students and families manage the costs of higher education. During the 2020-2021 academic year, affected by the pandemic, a few key trends emerged.

Borrowing overall declined (12%) as did the number of students and families who applied for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The majority admitted they planned for college earlier and helped pay for it while students attended, but struggled to assess post-graduate options.

Its latest survey of 985 parents and 1,000 students shows how these groups have responded to the online learning infusion made necessary by COVID-19. Although many were skeptical of its value when the pandemic struck, over 85% said they had had a ‘positive’ or ‘neutral’ experience with it, and more than half rated it as ‘good’ or “Excellent”. These numbers were even higher among blacks and Hispanics, who cited speed of completion, the ability to attend an institution outside their region, and the effectiveness of learning as benefits of fully online or hybrid modalities. .

“The pandemic can serve as a catalyst for innovation to improve the way colleges and universities deliver education to the many communities they serve, and it can be a driving force to create more equity in education. higher, ”the study authors said. “The opportunities and benefits of online learning to reach minority students may be clear, but there are still barriers: 28% of black families and 20% of Hispanic families say they do not have access to all the tools and technologies needed for e-learning. “

Huge obstacles remain to online implementation, including slow or poor internet connectivity experienced by a third of those surveyed. More than half admit to finding the online space distracting, and a similar percentage said it was not the best environment to try to work or meet other students. More than a third say the courses themselves are simply not suited to online spaces, and instructors have not adapted well to virtual education.

As a result, 75% were satisfied with the reopening of campuses, whether for full teaching or blended learning. But the acceptance by 70% of black students that online learning was comparable to face-to-face teaching is notable.

Cost for students and families

Another key data point of the study is the alarming free fall in the number of students filling out FAFSA forms. The percentage fell again in 2020-2021 to 68%, a drop of almost 10% from 2018-19 and a drop of 18% from 2016-17. The main reason they don’t apply is because they think they won’t qualify. About a third said they missed the deadline or felt it was too complex. “Likewise, many students did not apply for scholarships because they did not expect to receive one,” the authors said. “Exploring and responding to the reasons families give for not taking advantage of these funding sources can encourage them to apply and not miss out on valuable free help. “

Families spent just over $ 26,000 for education in 2020-2021, down from $ 30,000 the year before. Scholarships (16%) and grants (9%) remain key sources of funding, but not as important as one might expect, given rising tuition and fees and stagnant funding. income. Almost 75% of families who did not use the scholarships did not even apply for them. Other sources include:

  • Parents’ income and savings: 45%
  • Student loan: 11% (average of $ 8,775)
  • Parents’ loan: 9% ($ 11,394)
  • Student income and savings: 8%
  • Parents and friends: 2%

Families fully understand the costs incurred by borrowing from previous generations – where $ 1.73 trillion in student debt hangs over former students – and are trying to pay off those costs sooner. About 55% say at least some student loans are paid off while they are in college, which is 10 percentage points more than in 2019-2020.

Still, only 38% of families and students spoke of post-graduate options and savings, including how lucrative their career paths will be once they graduate and the potential for higher education. This data can provide key opportunities for admissions and career service centers ensuring that students are retained, achieve completion, and achieve long-term success.


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