Students feeling pressure from pending Bright Futures changes

As originally posted here.

The Florida Bright Futures scholarship program has offered many students the opportunity to attend post-secondary education in Florida since 1997. In light of the recent economic hardships, the program is in danger of undergoing changes and cuts. The proposals date to a March 28 meeting, and discussions are ongoing.

“The Senate has proposed cutting the Bright Futures Scholarships by $1,000 per student,” said Erin Dunn, campus director of Financial Aid, Scholarships and Veterans Services. “The House proposes increasing the requirements for high school graduates to qualify for the scholarships, including the Medallion Scholars Award.”

Dunn said the state is dealing with less funding in higher education partly from a loss in federal stimulus funding. The current proposals are pending because the budget has not finalized.

“What I’ve been hearing from more students is that they are very worried that some of them are going to be affected,” said Chuck Terzian, Student Government senator. “Some of them don’t understand that you have loans available to you. A lot of students have never taken out loans for anything. So it’s a scary kind of thing to even begin doing. They get told by their parents to be financially responsible. A lot of them, when they look at Bright Futures being cut, they worry how they’re going to pay for school.”

Terzian said having the debt from loans affects career decisions students make.

“Something like $30,000 is a huge number for someone who’s never been in the workforce,” Terzian said.

SG Senate President Christian Haas is a recipient of Bright Futures.

“I will say that the restrictions might be a little lenient,” Haas said. “I think some people who get Bright Futures, probably shouldn’t in a tight budget time. If the money is not there, you should probably work a little harder, but the developments I’m aware of, they’re going to take away the percentage and just offer a flat amount regardless of your institution. I think in a way it makes sense. It makes it harder for students to go to a more expensive university.”

Haas hopes it helps streamline the college tuition rates.

“I don’t think you should cut education when you’re increasing salaries and operational expenses,” Haas said. “I do agree though that it’s better to streamline it and not offer different prices to different schools.”

Florida state university tuition increased 15 percent in the fall 2010 semester; according to a June 18, 2010 report from the Orlando Sentinel. The state university Board of Governors voted to approve the increase in June.

“It’s going to increase every year and I don’t think there’s any end in sight,” Haas said. “I don’t think Bright Futures is going to follow that increase, so I think it’s definitely going to be harder. Students are going to have to come up with more money and I don’t think the federal Pell grants are increasing anytime soon. Our future is going to involve less people being able to go to college.”

Haas thinks that Bright Futures should be more competitive, but everybody should be able to go to college.

“Sen. Evelyn Lynn (R-Ormond Beach), the chair of the Budget Subcommittee on Higher Education Appropriations, said most of the students should be able to qualify for the American Opportunity Tax Credit,” Dunn said. “She inferred that the credit might balance out the reduction of the scholarship amount. The credit is for undergraduate college expenses.”

Dunn said the House proposal for Bright Futures calls for increasing the qualifying SAT score from 1280 to 1300 for the Academic Scholars award and the ACT score from 28 to 29, and increasing community service hours from 75 to 100. The medallion scholars under the Bright Futures program would increase the SAT score for some students from 1020 to 1170 and the ACT score from 23 to 27.

“The Governor’s proposed budget doesn’t reduce the current level of funding,” Dunn said. “It only increases the criteria to receive Bright Futures in the first place.”

The current plan for Bright Futures has eligible 2009-10 high school graduates receiving up to 100 percent of the required hours for their program study. They may only restore their award if it was lost due to insufficient GPA in the first year of funding.

Students are not required to enroll full-time, but full-time students must earn 24 semester hours (or the equivalent) per academic year. Part-time students must enroll a minimum of six hours per term. They must also earn the required number of hours for which they were funded.

“Bottom line is that all higher education institutions are keeping their fingers crossed for the benefit of their students,” Dunn said. “I am hesitant to create concern before we know the ultimate outcome of the final legislation.

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About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News, Examiner.com, and Tampa Tribune.
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