Scholarship program nears extinction

The state legislature is discussing ways to cut the cost of rewarding Bright Future Scholarships.The amount of money the state awards per year has increased over $100 million since the program’s inception five years ago.Two solutions being considered are proposals to increase the scholarship qualifications and to no longer pay the cost of tuition and fees.David Foy, the executive director of the Florida Student Association, said the organization originallyopposed changing the scholarship requirements but now supports the idea of cutting costs, as long as the state continues to couple, or match, the cost of tuition and fees.”Our biggest fear is that Bright Futures decreases as tuition and fees increase,” he said. “It would mean the award is being diminished.” This year, the board of trustees raised tuition and fees 5 percent for in-state undergraduate students, the maximum hike permitted.Foy said the number of students who qualify for the scholarship is one of the factors draining the money well dry.In 1997, the state paid between $40-60 million in scholarship funds through Bright Futures. Last year, the state paid nearly $200 million, and the costs are expected to increase as more students qualify for the scholarship, Foy said.The Bright Futures Scholarship Program, which is funded through the state lottery consists of three scholarships available to Florida residents who have minimum SAT scores of 970 and 3.0 grade point averages or higher. These scholarships are the Florida Academic Scholars Award, the Florida Medallion Scholarship (formerly the Florida Merit Scholars Award) and the Florida Gold Seal Vocational Scholars Award. These scholarship awards range from paying 75 percent of the cost of tuition and fees to 100 percent of tuition and fees, plus $300 per semester for college-related expenses.Student Government Association President Andre Hammel said he feared changes to the Bright Futures program because he is concerned that it will hurt students.Florida residents comprise 75 percent of the student body. He and SGA Vice President Tisa Holley lobbied this summer with the FSA on the steps of the state capitol about scholarship changes.”We’re thinking long term here, trying to be proactive instead of reactive,” Hammel said. “I’m not a Bright Futures recipient. I’m out-of-state,” Hammel said. “I can sympathize but not empathize.”Foy said if enough money is saved, it may be possible to once again provide Bright Futures scholarship funding during summer sessions. Though this was not initially an option in 1997, the program has allowed qualified students the opportunity to go to school during the summer term.Students recommended removing the Florida Board of Education Rule requiring nine summer semester hours prior to graduation if funding continues to be unavailable during the summer. The scholarship funds were not available in 2002 and they will not be available this upcoming summer in 2003.During the 2000-2001 school year, the average State University System grade point average was 3.5 and the average SAT score was 1120, with scores ranging from 1010 to 1210 statewide, and the average ACT score was 21.The FSA recommended raising the Medallion SAT to 1030 and the ACT to a 22, as well as increasing the grade point average requirement to 3.2. The association also recommended keeping the Academic Scholarship standards secure at a minimum 3.5 GPA and a SAT score of at least 1270.Hammel said he would like to see the SAT raised to a 1030 as well, with a minimum 3.25 GPA, adding that most FAMU students average SAT scores between 1020-1030 and have an average 3.2 grade point average. He said he realizes that things have to change in order for the scholarship program to continue. The FSA is fighting to guarantee that high school seniors and current Bright Futures award recipients will not be affected by changes in the program.”I talked to students about it and they said the worst-case scenario is de-coupling,” Foy said. “It’s a double-edged sword and a loss-loss scenario for students.”