Florida

Putting Education Reform To The Test

Bright Futures Scholarships Cover Less Tuition For Florida College Students

it.pinellas.k12.fl.us

Across Florida, college freshmen are signing up for classes.

Many are bringing Bright Futures scholarships to help pay their way.

But Forrest Estep experienced sticker shock when he saw what the scholarships don’t cover. Estep is a student at Florida State University.

In the past, his Bright Futures Scholarship would have covered a lot more. But now?

“Here’s how much you owe for the fees,” he said, explaining the bill for his first semester. “It gave you a total. From that total I guess is where they took the percentage from, and it was barely any. It was like not even half.”

The Florida State bill was a lot more than Forrest Estep’s dad, Woody Estep, was expecting to pay.

“I think that was part of what was confusing me,” said Woody Estep, “because I thought it was going to be, ‘OK, here’s your total, you get a 75% discount off your total purchase.’ No, it was 75 percent off one item.”

Students earn money for college through the Bright Futures program based on their grades, test scores, and community service.

The program is not based on financial need.

More than a third of Florida’s high school graduates qualified for the scholarship last year.

It used to be that scholarship recipients got either 75 percent or 100 percent of their tuition paid. Some other expenses were also covered.

Florida lawmakers started changing the Bright Futures program a few years ago.

The cost of college keeps going up. Lottery revenue helps fund the program, and lottery sales declined for three years before setting a record this year.

There’s less money to spend, and more students are eligible for scholarships.

floridacollegeaccess.org

Braulio Colón, Executive Director of the Florida College Access Network

The problem, according to Braulio Colón with the Florida College Access Network, is that the program is entirely merit-based. (Full disclosure: The network is an underwriter of StateImpact Florida.)

“Regardless of a student’s family’s ability to pay, all students qualified for it if they met the academic criteria,” Colón said. “That made the program unsustainable (because) so many students were qualifying for the award.”

Also, he said many families don’t understand that paying for college involves more than just tuition.

“So, if they hear something about a scholarship that pays for 75 percent of their tuition, many times first generation students and families interpret that as, ‘Oh, I’m covered because tuition is all I need to worry about,’” said Colón.

Fees can double the cost of the final bill.

There was a time when Bright Futures covered all of tuition plus up to about $300 in fees.

Starting this year, recipients will only receive a certain amount of money per credit hour, and most of their fees won’t be covered.

It’s a much smaller award than students received during the first decade of the program.

Colón said the money would go farther if the state also considered an applicant’s financial need.

“We’ve always thought that there are some definite benefits to having a very popular merit-based program in the state of Florida,” said Colón. “However, a merit-based program is incomplete if it doesn’t take into account a student’s ability to pay.”

JamesMadison.org

Bob Sanchez, Director of Policy for the James Madison Institute

But Bob Sanchez of the James Madison Institute, a nonpartisan research group, said the state shouldn’t abandon the merit-based system.

“Remember, one of the rationales for creating the Bright Futures program in the first place was to avoid the brain drain,” said Sanchez, “where the smart kids go off to Ivy League schools or to the University of Virginia or some other school.”

“It was to help keep them in Florida on the theory that when they graduate from college they’ll stay and work here in the professions they’ve chosen,” said Sanchez.

Instead of making Bright Futures need-based or cutting the scholarship even more, Sanchez said lawmakers should raise the bar for applicants.

A report by the James Madison Institute suggests the money could go farther and have a greater impact by giving bigger scholarships to fewer scholars.

“I think when money was so plentiful, you could welcome more students into it,” said Sanchez. “But as the money has grown tighter and the number of students has grown, you have to be more selective.”

Comments

  • http://www.facebook.com/Derrick.N.Gibson Derrick Gibson

    How ridiculous. Does the State of Florida fund its prisons out of lottery revenue? If lottery sales go down, due they reduce the number of prisoners to only those who are “need based”?

    Why is state spending on education left up to the fortunes of the state lottery system, when state funding on prisons is never questioned — and never reduced?

    If children are, literally, our future, then our college students are our immediate future: future workers; future business operators and future tax payers. If we antagonize them, how likely are they to say: “I want to stay in Florida after I graduate! It’s the best place for me to live, work and contribute back to the society that has done so much for me!”

    • http://www.facebook.com/Derrick.N.Gibson Derrick Gibson

      How crazy. Those whom we imprison will be without the means to leave the state, while those whom we educate will be driven away by our stupidity.

  • Jeanette

    A little misleading. The Bright Futures is paying about the same amount as it did in 2005/2006. The problem lies in that tuition in the Florida University System has doubled from 2005/2006 until 20011/20012. Tuition had been about $100 per credit hour at a 4-year university now the average for FL public universities is $200+ per credit hour. Scholarship funds can’t keep up at that escalated rate.

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