Bright Futures pays less, requires students do more


Published: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 at 6:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 at 6:23 p.m.

Florida college students are being required to do more to obtain Bright Futures scholarships and will get less from them, a trend that will continue over the next few years.

Facts

Bright Futures changes

- Starting July 1, students must submit a complete, error-free Free Application for Federal Student Aid in order to receive both initial and renewal Bright Futures scholarships. Other changes include new limits to the scholarship amount awarded.

- A 15 percent tuition increase means University of Florida students will pay $188.55 per credit hour in tuition and fees in the upcoming academic year. Bright Futures scholarships are now $101 per credit hour for top-level Academic Scholars and $76 per credit hour for second-tier Medallion Scholars.

- A UF student taking 30 credit hours over the course of the academic year would be charged $5,656.50 in tuition and fees. That means Bright Futures would not cover $2,626.50 for Academic Scholars and $3,376.50 for Medallion Scholars.

One of the latest requirements, effective Friday, is that students must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid to receive the scholarships. While the top scholarships once completely covered state university tuition, tuition increases and caps on award amounts mean that students now have to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket.

The changes have a significant impact at the University of Florida, where more than 98 percent of in-state freshmen qualify for Bright Futures. The changes come at a time when other financial aid is being cut, leaving both UF and its students scrambling to make up the difference.

"Ultimately what ends up happening is a situation where students have to borrow more money or work," said Rick Wilder, UF's interim director for student financial affairs.

The cuts to Bright Futures are forcing UF to find more need-based aid for students who had mostly relied on the scholarships. In addition, state lawmakers cut overall financial-aid funding to the university. UF estimates $9 million in new obligations for aid — which President Bernie Machen has pledged would be met in the upcoming year's budget.

But those aren't the only cuts facing UF and its students. Three federal aid programs — Academic Competitiveness and SMART grants as well as Robert C. Byrd Honors scholarships — have been axed for the upcoming year. Collectively, about 4,600 of the grants and scholarships were issued to UF students in 2009-10 school year, totaling more than $8.3 million in aid.

Wilder said the changes create a "perfect storm" at a time when some students' parents have lost their jobs or are otherwise feeling the economic crunch. For students such as freshman Abby Mahfood, the changes to Bright Futures mean new financial pressures for her and her mother, a middle-school teacher in Orlando.

"She's going to have to work longer so that I can go to college," Mahfood said.

In addition to help from her mom, Mahfood said she's also using loans to pay for her education. She said it's hard to look at her computer and see the debt accumulating. But she's grateful she's receiving the top award from Bright Futures, as she wouldn't have qualified under new test-score requirements taking effect in the next few years.

"I'm glad that didn't happen to me," she said.

This year's high school graduates must have a 1,270 SAT or 28 ACT to qualify as top-level Academic Scholars and a 970 SAT or 20 ACT as second-tier Medallion Scholars.

The requirements increase over the next three years. Starting with high school graduates in 2014, Academic Scholars must have a 1,290 SAT or 29 ACT and Medallion Scholars must have an 1,170 SAT or 26 ACT.

Academic Scholars used to get 100 percent of their tuition paid and Medallion Scholars 75 percent. Now, the scholarships are capped at a specific dollar amount. As a result of a recently passed tuition increase, an Academic Scholar taking 30 credit hours in the next academic year will pay more than $2,600 out of pocket for tuition and fees.

Bright Futures cuts have been made as lawmakers dealt with an increasing number of scholarships and a flat revenue source in the Florida Lottery. They instituted new requirements about the grade point average and number of credits that students must have to retain the scholarships. Students no longer get a stipend for books and must repay the cost of dropped classes.

The requirement to complete the federal aid form, known as the FAFSA, is among the latest changes. A 2009 report found that Florida students left $24 million of federal financial aid untapped, so the requirement ensures some of that aid is obtained and lessens the state's burden. The forms will also provide data on the financial need of students who get Bright Futures.

Wilder is concerned about students getting the message about completing the form. He emphasized that the federal government must first declare the completed form to be error-free. Students should allow for the week to 10 days needed to complete the process, he said, as well as the possibility that they might need to go through that period again if they make a mistake.

UF has emailed students and is sending postcards to their families to inform them of the requirement. But Wilder said he fully expects that some students will fail to get the message and find themselves without the scholarships when their fall tuition bill comes.

"I think we're going to have a number of concerned parents contacting us this upcoming fall," he said.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top