FCAN ICYMIAs some state officials traveled across Florida last week to honor this year’s Bright Futures recipients, others voiced their opinions with the media about the program’s future.  Bright Futures is scheduled to see funding levels drop to $180 million by 2017 after reaching a high of $429 million in 2008, which has left many to question what will become of, or what changes should be made to, the program.

Below are some of the recent headlines to mention the state’s preeminent financial aid program.

Paul Cottle: Combine Bright Futures and STEM | September 10, 2014 | Tallahassee Democrat

Florida State University physics professor Paul Cottle put forth his vision for how to change Bright Futures in an op-ed published in the Tallahassee Democrat.  Writes Cottle, “Perhaps the controversy should cause our state’s policy-makers to rethink the purpose of the Bright Futures program. If it is really a state priority to graduate more students with bachelors degrees in STEM fields such as computer science, engineering and physical sciences, then Bright Futures should be recast to incentivize students to prepare for these fields in high school. By doing this, we would remove the appearance of racial bias from the program and steer students from all racial and socioeconomic groups toward the most economically attractive careers.”  

Cottle says the added course-taking requirement could replace the test score requirement all together, and points out in an education blog he authors that graduates of the International Baccalaureate (IB) and Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) programs are already exempt from the Bright Futures test score requirement.  Writes Cottle, “Maybe since we are already exempting a select group of affluent kids from the Bright Futures test score requirement, we should exempt everybody.”

44th Annual National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs (NASSGAP) Survey Report | September 15, 2014 | NASSGAP

The annual NASSGAP survey report, released last week, highlights state spending on student aid programs dating back to 2003.  According to the report, most states spent about the same as the year before on financial aid while increasing their investments in need-based grants.  In contrast, Florida distributed $541 million in aid in 2012-13 after spending $561 million in 2011-12, a result largely due to Bright Futures reductions, while need-based spending stayed the same.  The report also shows that Florida spent proportionately less than most other states on need-based aid.  Only 25.4% of undergraduate state aid was used to fund need-based programs in 2012-13, almost half the rate as the national average (47.9%).

New Bright Futures Rules Changing College Plans for Florida Students (w/ audio) | September 15, 2014 | StateImpact Florida

This profile of a Palm Beach College student and his father highlights how changes to Bright Futures have affected the choices of a recent high school graduate.  “When I found out that I made the scores that [were] available last year, but it wasn’t this year, I was very confused,” [the student] said. “It’s like, ‘I’m sorry I was born the wrong year.”  Instead of attending the University of South Florida as planned, the recent high school grad decided to stay close to home and attend a less expensive, open access institution to save money.

Bright Futures Drop

Estimates show a sharp drop in graduates eligible for Bright Futures (credit: StateImpact Florida)

Also featured in the article were comments from the Senate Education Chairman John Legg on what has inspired the changes to Bright Futures. “So what we wanted to do is have a realignment, if you will, of Bright Futures to make it just what it was intended – for our best and brightest,” Legg said.  “We’ve taken up the access cause and injected it into Bright Futures, perhaps that’s not the best place for it.”

Lawmaker Says Financial Aid Could Depend On Classes, Not Just Test Scores | September 15, 2014 | StateImpact Florida

In a follow-up to the previous article, Senate Education Chairman John Legg offered further clarification as to what he and other lawmakers may consider with regards to Bright Futures reform efforts, indicating the new “scholar version” of the state’s high school diploma may come into play.  “I think you’ll see the Legislature discussing how can we take those designations and attach some financial incentives,” said Legg. The scholar diploma designation, signed into law in 2013, requires high school students to take more high-level math, science and foreign-language courses.

Florida Universities Say They Need $45M to Offset Bright Futures Changes | September 17, 2014 | Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald

Leading up to a Board of Governors meeting in Pensacola last week, the state’s public universities were set to outline the need for an additional $45 million in need-based aid next year to make up for the loss in Bright Futures dollars.  Authors of the analysis that appeared in the Board of Governors meeting materials said the added need-based aid “would help ensure that low income students complete their degrees.” In the article, Rep. Erik Fresen, who oversees education spending for the Florida House, commented that lawmakers should discuss need-based aid, but does not support lowering test score requirements for Bright Futures.  Since the recommendation from the group of universities was first proposed, an update from the Times/Herald article says, “The controversial item was pulled from the agenda after it got dragged into the governor’s race.”

BOG Bright Futures Analysis  Florida Board of Governors analysis showing students affected by new Bright Futures criteria

Fewer Students Qualifying for Bright Futures (w/ video) | September 19, 2014 | WEAR ABC 3 (Northwest Florida)

Students in Northwest Florida are also starting to feel the effects of Bright Futures changes, according to a story that appeared on a local ABC affiliate.  At the University of West Florida, the number of Bright Futures recipients has dropped by nearly 750 students from 2,816 in 2013-14 to 2,068 in 2014-15.  At the Pensacola State College, a school official said, “Five years ago, we had a little over a thousand students in the fall term, and this current fall term we’re in, we have less than 400 so it’s having a great impact on the students and their ability to source their education.”

Editorial: State Should Fix Scholarship Mess | September 19, 2014 | Tampa Bay Times

On the heels of the Board of Governors analysis asking for more need-based aid to offset Bright Futures cuts, The Times editorial board challenges the Florida Legislature to address the needs of both high achievers and low-income students through separate merit and need-based programs.  The article points out that with the higher test score criteria for Bright Futures eligibility, “the true state of financial need among Florida students is more readily apparent.”  The authors go on to say that if the program remains in its current form, “the state is failing both the financially needy and the academically gifted.”

Who’s to Blame for the Decimation of Bright Futures? | September 18, 2014 | Sunshine State News

Reviewing the headlines of the week, Sunshine State News columnist Nancy Smith estimates that fault for the demise of the popular program lies “90 percent with the Legislature, maybe 10 percent at best with any governor.”  Smith points out that lottery proceeds earmarked for Bright Futures beginning in 1997 have been slowly siphoned off into the general fund.  Preventing this from happening as it eventually did would have been a heavy lift for any governor, Smith claims, as there are too many other moving parts included in the large, complicated process required to pass an appropriations bill.

Pinellas School District on a Mission to Make College Education Affordable | September 20, 2014 | Tampa Tribune

Recognizing the struggle many students and families face when financing a postsecondary education, a partnership between the Pinellas County school district and St. Petersburg College looks to find ways to lessen the financial burden for local students.  With fewer students set to receive a Bright Futures scholarship, local leaders are partnering to expand opportunities for students to receive college credit while still in high school, saving them money in the process.  Because of the demand for the “Early College” program at St. Petersburg College, students are selected through a lottery system, while others are moved to a waiting list.

Bright Futures Cuts Prompt Call for More Tuition Aid | September 23, 2014 | Orlando Sentinel

The Orlando Sentinel also highlighted the proposal for more need-based aid put forth by state university representatives.  “Without these funds, retention and graduation rates are likely to fall as students come to grips with the financial implications of continuing their schooling,” the proposal read.  A University of Central Florida student said the decrease in funds would place the burden on students and their families.  Said the student, “Without Bright Futures the option would be to take out a bigger loan or lean on my parents a little more.”  The college senior, who also mentors local high school students, also said that some students respond to his advice on college with, “We may not even be able to pay for school,” a concern he said has become more difficult to quell because of fewer student scholarships.


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