Saturday, May 4, 2013

Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program

The Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program, similar to many other state-funded scholarship programs in the south, is a lottery-funded merit-based aid program for high-achieving high school graduates. The main eligibility requirements is a GPA requirement, SAT/ACT scores, and community service hours.

Since it is a merit-based program, a student's household income is not taken into account for eligibility. As long as the student meets the academic requirements, they are eligible to have their tuition expenses paid for, and when the program started in 1997, it paid for 110% of a student's tuition expenses. Over the years, due to rising tuition costs and the increasing number of qualified students, the program is no longer financially sustainable. 

Due to the exponential costs, but stagnating lottery revenues, the state legislature decided to raise the academic standards. This has caused controversy from educators and students. Critics argue the higher standards will cause a large number of black and Hispanic students to not qualify for the scholarship, since these two groups statistically score lower on standardized exams.

The following graph shows the disbursements since 1997, from the Florida Office of Student Financial Aid.

In fact, whites currently make up 60% of the scholarship recipients. And at the state's flagship university, the University of Florida, 95% of its incoming freshmen class was awarded the scholarship, but the median household income is approximately $100,000. Critics argue that these families would've paid for their children's education without the scholarship, and that the structure of the program prevents those from low-income backgrounds from accessing higher education.

The current program doesn't take into account whether a student's family can afford to pay for a student's tuition expenses. However, the state legislator decided to require the submission of the FAFSA if students want to apply for the scholarship. Legislators now want to start collecting the financial data on the students and their families to determine the next step to control costs.

Floridians have argued that the program needs to be a need-based program to increase access to higher education. Furthermore, since the program is funded by lottery revenues, some believe that this is regressive since those who benefit the most from it aren't the ones buying the lottery tickets. Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to purchase lottery tickets as a way to escape poverty.

Another issue is that Floridians have grown accustomed to the program and legislators will likely face voter backlash if they threaten to "take away" the money from families.

What would you do if you were a legislator? Change it to a need-based program? Change it to a blended-program to require an income ceiling and high academic requirements? Why?

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