New state initiative may up minority scholarships

Gov. Jeb Bush held a press conference at the capital building Wednesday unveiling his new plans for higher education under an initiative known as the Access and Diversity Initiative.

Bush, along with students from Florida A&M University’s student government met in several meetings to come up with ideas on future scholarships geared toward helping Florida minority students who aspire to pursue higher education in the state.

Six recommendations were made by the governor, as it relates to higher education. Bush recommended $52 million in the 2006-2007 budget. The increase will provide on average, $1,152 of financial assistance to 116,842 students, according to Bush.

“I am a product of financial aid,” Sen. Al Lawson (D-FL) loudly proclaimed to the crowd. He went on to explain how he and his five siblings took advantage of financial aid and would not have gone to college otherwise.

The College Board program received a 42 percent increase, for a total of $10 million. This initiative will prepare high school students for college, help with test preparation and assist in tutoring programs. The Stanley Tate Project Stars Scholarship Program received a 67 percent increase, for a total of $10 million. Pre-paid scholarships to at-risk, low-income students will be offered through this program.

The College Reach Out Program, which FAMU graduate student Keneshia Grant affectionately spoke about as one of the reasons that helped her attend college, will receive a $1 million increase in funding.

The recommendations generating the most talk and accolades from Sen. Al Lawson and various other attendees were the First Generation Matching Grants and the University Presidents’ Focus on Achievement Mentoring Partnership.

The First Generation grants target students who will be the first person in their family to attend college.

The program will initially cost $6.5 million and will be run by the individual participating schools.

The funds will be raised through a dollar matching program. The state will match private donations, dollar-for-dollar.

Interim president Bryant, spoke enthusiastically about her future involvement in the University Presidents’ Focus on Achievement Mentoring Partnership, which will be a mentoring program involving mentors on the universities campus’ mentoring middle school students around Florida.

The governor formed a 17-member Access and Diversity Commission, which will discuss minority enrollment in Florida’s universities and will monitor the progress of the proposed initiatives.

“I would be remiss not to recognize the leadership that FAMU students have provided for the initiatives,” touted FAMU’s Interim President, Castell V. Bryant, as she acknowledged FAMU students’ involvement in making the partnership between FAMU and the governor a success.

The governor also had many accolades for the FAMU students involved with the initiative and appointed FAMU graduate student Keneshia Grant as a commission member.

“My initial response to my meeting with the Governor was, ‘what’s the point?’ but I was wrong,” said Grant about the governor’s dedication to hear the students out about minority enrollment in the universities.

There were some people present who were skeptical about the governor’s motives for forming the Access and Diversity Initiative.

A reporter asked the governor if his involvement with the program was a “backdoor” to his One Florida Program. FAMU students and various state legislators, which opposed the program, were in the room approving of the new initiative.

“Absolutely not,” The governor quickly replied.

Bush went on to state that the program is about making education better for all students, as well as those students attending community colleges.

However, when he said the program was for “all students” he was not including

those who live “out-of state.” The lack of aid has been the reason for Florida’s decrease in minority enrollment in the universities.

“I don’t propose spending Florida taxpayers’ money to pay for a student from Minnesota. Let the governor of Minnesota worry about that,” Bush said when asked about increasing aid to out-of-state students.

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