Bright Futures flips its switch; students face new escalating costs next semester

Spinnaker

In the wake of dwindling Florida Lottery funds, Bright Futures scholars will not be guaranteed the tuition coverage of the past starting this fall. State legislators, influenced by the perishing state budget, were required to make some tough choices.

As of fall 2009, all Florida Academic and Florida Medallion scholars will now receive a flat rate that will not cover the differential caused by the tuition increases. This could mean more than $400, give or take, in extra annual expenses, meaning each semester could cost more than $1,300.

To break it down, Florida Academic scholars who used to receive money for the whole of their tuition will instead receive $126 per credit hour. Florida Medallion scholars, who received 75 percent, get $95 per credit hour, according to the Bright Futures Web site, osfa.com. Considering the 15 percent tuition increase, these figures are not going to cut it.

In a scramble to spit up the extra dough, some Bright Futures recipients are in a rut. “It’s been such a security blanket up until now. It’s just something we’ll have to deal with, and considering the times, it’s not going to be convenient for anybody financially,” said Barbee Monk, junior voice performance major.

Jim Owen, director of One Stop Student Services, said that while he thinks more students will be able to swing the extra costs, he is most worried that students do not know about the changes and will receive a shock when they look at their account to see what will likely be a financial hold.

“I had heard rumors of statewide budget cuts and tuition increases but assumed that Bright Futures would adjust,” sophomore communications major Carli Cortez said. “I’m a 75 percent recipient and I thought I had it good, but my award seems like so much less now.”

In addition, the state Legislature decided to create additional requirements, as of the 2009-2010 academic year, for full-time Bright Futures recipients. Students must now earn at least 24 semester hours a year in order to renew their award, instead of the previous 12-hour a year minimum, according to osfa.com.

Students who do not meet the 24 credit hour minimum during the 2009-2010 academic year will lose their scholarship for the following year but will be offered a chance to restore their award in a subsequent academic year.

In regards to withdrawing from or dropping a course, scholars will now also be required to submit a refund to their institution for the costs covered by their award for the given course after the add/drop period.

Special exceptions will be made in cases of extreme emergency or verifiable illness, according to osfa.com. This change is intended to discourage students from withdrawing from a course if their final outcome is looking gloomy, Owen said.

The senate bill also states that the renewal of Florida Seal Vocational awards to Florida Medallion awards will now be prohibited, and the Bright Futures college-related expense award for Florida Academic Scholars will be terminated.

Classified seniors will not be exempt from these changes in the coming school year. Seniors, like the rest of the students, will be receiving the set flat rate for their tuition which will not cover the additional 5 percent technology fee. Florida Academic Scholar seniors will also miss out on the college-related expense award, which was terminated for all students, said Kelsey Lehtomaa, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Education.

Students can view their estimated Bright Futures Scholarship award amount on myWings, but One Stop is advising students to keep in mind the amount shown is merely an estimate assuming a 15 credit hour per semester pace.

For additional information and specifics, visit www.floridastudentfinancialaid.org/SSFA/bf/newsrenew.htm, or call the toll-free number 1-888-827-2004.