Bright Futures burning out


The Florida Board of Governors has been in discussion about setting a cap to the Bright Futures scholarship program, with funds appropriated for need-based aid and science, technology, engineering and
math majors.

Tight budgets and stricter admission standards have been forcing university administrators throughout the state to look much farther for places to save money, university officials said.

And with the escalating cost of the scholarship program, its future is in question.

The Bright Futures program currently costs Florida nearly $400 million, and while one Florida senator has voiced for it to be phased out in the next 10 years, the program is expected to cost the state nearly $1 billion annually throughout the next decade.

Not only is the total cost unsustainable, but Bright Futures is partially responsible for the under-funding of need-based financial aid, according to a Florida Board of Governors conference call.

Currently, the Bright Futures program awards 60 percent of all state-funded financial aid, leaving only 23 percent to fund need-based scholarships.

Traditionally, the program was designed to award recipients based on merit in academic performance, awarding up to 100 percent paid tuition and fees, but some said the program artificially lowers the cost of tuition in Florida, which is the lowest in the nation.

“Whenever the Legislature raises tuition to pump more money into the universities, they have to also increase the amount of the scholarship to match the new tuition level, and thus have to find revenue from somewhere else to put into the program … thus, the analogy that Bright Futures keeps tuition low,” UNF President John Delaney said.

Setting an award cap of $3,500, for instance, is a way for legislators to keep the program from further lowering the cost of tuition in schools because as state tuition goes up, the state funding must also increase to preserve the scholarship, Delaney said.

In a University of Florida Community Campus Council breakfast, Sen. Steve Oelrich said he favored a need-based scholarship, and that the state should move away from the merit-based approach and begin phasing it out.

“We just can’t afford to do it anymore,” Oelrich said. “It’s going to have to be phased out over a period of time.”

But a program that has existed successfully for so long would be impossible to phase out and doing so would cause an outcry from the state of Florida, said Renee Goldstein, assistant director of One Stop Services.

“It would be huge, not just for students who have been using the scholarship but students who have been working hard for four years to receive it,” Goldstein said.

The students were for many years enticed by teachers and counselors to pursue a degree in Florida for two main reasons: because good grades guaranteed you reliable financial aid and because a two year degree earned at a Florida junior college guaranteed you acceptance to a four year institution, Goldstein said.

But both of these promises have recently come under scrutiny by everybody except the students whom the program favors.

“I do not see the program ever being phased out,” Delaney said. “It has successfully kept many of Florida’s brightest students in-state and is immensely popular. About 80 percent of our freshmen get Bright Futures … however, odds are that it will eventually be frozen at a particular dollar amount.”

E-mail Jonathan Morales at [email protected]