Bright Futures changes could ‘devastate' minority students
Published: Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 5:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 5:25 p.m.
More than two-thirds of black and Hispanic freshmen and sophomores at the University of Florida who now receive Bright Futures scholarships would not have gotten them under new guidelines that take effect on July 1, an analysis by the University of South Florida shows.
The analysis, which crunched data on Bright Futures scholarship recipients at all of the universities in the State University System, shows the increase in college test score results would shut out thousands of students across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic categories.
“If left alone it's going to be devastating, particularly on certain racial and ethnic groups, and unevenly distributed across the state universities,” said Robert Spatig, USF assistant vice president of admissions recruitment and enrollment planning. “And it's not going to go to those performing the best in high school, just those who perform best on the ACT or SAT.”
Starting July 1, graduating high school seniors must get an 1170 or better on the SAT and a 26 or better on the ACT to qualify for Bright Futures.
About 96 percent of UF's entering class have Bright Futures scholarships, a number that would fall to 75-80 percent a few years from now under the new standards, Spatig said.
The findings are consistent with a preliminary analysis by UF when the bill was debated by the Legislature a year ago.
“Fewer students will qualify for Bright Futures including a disproportionate number of African-American and Hispanic students starting in the summer/fall 2014,” UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said. “Because the quality of UF students is so high, the impact is less pronounced at UF than other schools in Florida.''
UF officials said it was too early to tell what impact the change would have on minority enrollment, but Sikes said the school is committed to helping students.
“UF's policy has been to meet the financial needs of its students,” she said. “We expect to continue to do so although exactly how we will do that has yet to be determined.”
Spatig looked at the potential impact at USF, then decided to see how it would affect the entire State University System. He obtained information from the state Board of Governors on freshman admits for the summer/fall term of 2010 and the summer/fall term of 2011 who received Bright Futures scholarships, then looked at how many dropped off if they had to apply under the new guidelines.
He also looked at county-by-county data. The percentage of Alachua County seniors receiving Bright Futures scholarships would drop by 63 percent.
The change disproportionately impacts low- and middle-income students, too. Spatig said he has no socioeconomic data for the state, but at USF, 65 percent of students eligible for federal financial aid would no longer be eligible for Bright Futures.
Statewide, the number of Hispanic students who currently qualify for Bright Futures would drop 60 percent under the new criteria, from 7,500 to around 3,000.
The number of black students who qualify for Bright Futures would drop 75 percent under the new criteria, from 2,700 to 650.
By comparison, about 41 percent of the white students who meet current criteria would not meet the new criteria, a drop from 17,000 to 10,000.
“What we've been saying all along is the program needs to be reformed not only in a way to take academic merit into account but also the economic needs of academic students,” said Braulio Colon, president of the Florida College Access Network.
FCAN is a nonprofit organization committed to increasing access to higher education for all students. A better approach would be to have a sliding scale based on student performance in class as well as test scores, Colon said.
“This highlights the need to have a broader conversation about financial aid reform ... and develop a program that fills the gap,” he said. “This also affects middle-income students who rely on Bright Futures to make a significant contribution to their college expenses.”
Spatig said the new criteria rewards the student who skates through high school with a B average but scores well on a test they spent three hours in a gym to complete. That is not fair to the student who gets straight A's and falls 20 points short on the SAT requirement, he said.
“Under current law, that student with the 3.0 will be determined to be more meritorious than the student with a 4.0-plus GPA based on a difference of 20 points on a test score?” he asked. “That is not even doing what the state is pretending it's doing: rewarding the best and brightest.”
National data show that students from a family with less of a college-going tradition — low-income minorities and rural whites — tend to score lower on standardized tests, Spatig said. Raising test scores favors the students who already have an advantage, he said.
The standards were changed as a way to help close a spending gap in the state budget.
“The Legislature and governor need to take a step back, take this change back and do a study on how to better invest the resources of the state to promote the students who are actually earning it,” he said.
Spatig supports legislation sponsored by state Rep. Ricardo Rangel, D-Kissimmee, which would strike the new standards and restore the old standards. “But that won't pass because the state needs to find savings in Bright Futures. There is not enough revenue to sustain it at this level.”
The long-term consequences could be devastating to the university system and the state's economy, Spatig said. Hard-working, deserving students who don't get Bright Futures won't be able to enroll at Florida universities, he said, and that would force the schools to either lower their standards or go outside Florida to find students to take their place.
“There will be a brain drain of the students who are the most likely to be successful in college and make a difference to Florida's economy,” Spatig said.
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