Since its inception in 1997, the Florida Bright Futures scholarship has paved the way for over 700,000 students to attend state colleges and universities. From 2018-2019, 46,739 students were eligible for the program, and the number has been steadily increasing since 2014. The program, funded by Florida Lottery revenue, awards scholarship to students of high academic achievement.
For those with a 3.5 GPA, a certain standardized test score (fluctuating around 1300 for the 1600 SAT scale) and 100 community service hours, the scholarship awards $212.28 per credit hour and $300 per semester for in-state schools. This covers 100% of tuition, room and board for eligible students attending Florida colleges- the second level of qualifying students receive $44 per credit hour.
Senate Bill 86, introduced by Senator Dennis Baxley (R- Ocala), proposes to reduce the cost of Bright Futures through the Board of Governors and the State Board of Education “approving a list of career certificate and undergraduate and graduate degree programs offered by a district career center, charter technical career center, Florida College System institution, or state university, as applicable, which lead directly to employment.” Students who do not plan to major in subjects on this list will no longer be eligible for the scholarship after 60 credit hours. The bill establishes the program for Pell Grant-eligible students in a certificate or associate degree program who still owe tuition and fees at Florida colleges or career centers after the student has applied all federal gift aid and state financial assistance, affecting students from the Class of 2022 and beyond. The bill states this list will be created by national, state, and regional “industry demand” of certain degree programs.
In an interview with CBS 47, Baxley said, “We want all of our students to succeed in meaningful careers that provide for their families and serve our communities. As taxpayers, we should all be concerned about subsidizing degrees that just lead to debt, instead of the jobs our students want and need. We encourage all students to pursue their passions, but when it comes to taxpayer subsidized education, there needs to be a link to our economy, and that is the goal of this legislation.”
“Education has inherent value and higher education, no matter the major, helps students develop critical thinking skills that they need to be successful in all facets of life. We should encourage young people to be whatever they want to be. Students earn the Bright Future Scholarships by working hard to achieve their dreams of higher education. It is short-sighted and just plain wrong to put limitations on our state’s highest achievers,” former Florida State Representative Margaret Good said.
One of Pine View’s graduation requirements is to complete 100 community service hours, which can then be applied to earn the Bright Futures scholarship. Lance Bergman, Pine View’s in-house college counselor, estimates that in any given year around 90% of Pine View students are eligible for the Florida Academic Scholars award (the highest level of the Bright Futures award), five to seven percent qualify for the Medallion award (second level of the scholarship), and less than five percent are ineligible. One of Bergman’s emphasized points during his counseling for students has been the importance of the scholarship when deciding to apply to in-state or out-of-state schools, the former of which allows many students to come out of college debt-free.
“I think that it is unfair for the government to try and push students into what they deem a ‘worthy’ major. The Bright Futures scholarship is meant to allow all students in Florida the ability to afford a college education- it shouldn’t matter what field they are going into,” eleventh-grader Alanna Densmore said.
“I get the economic rationale… but you don’t have to rob Peter to pay Paul for that,” Bergman said. “I’m not into limiting. I’m an educator. I want all kids to see all possibilities and eventually arrive at something that works well for them. My fear is this is diminishing the idea that a good liberal arts education, which isn’t necessarily humanities, is a good thing to have.”
The bill also reduces the credit hours awarded for students with college credit earned in high school- for example, if one passes the AP Calc exam and qualifies for the Bright Futures scholarship they would not receive the money for that credit.
Florida has the highest AP participation rate in the nation. In the class of 2020, 55,346 students earned a passing AP score, with a total of 230,431 AP exams taken.
A petition hosted by Change.org was created in protest of the bill. As of Thursday, March 5, it has almost 50,000 signatures.