Big Vote on FL Bright Futures How This & Other Legislative Actions May Affect Your Wallet

In the 2017 legislative session, Florida lawmakers ​extended the state-funded merit scholarship program, Bright Futures, to include summer classes/sessions AND agreed to nearly double the scholarship amount awarded for top students who qualify for the Academic Scholars level. Under the new plan, students who qualified for this top tier award were able to receive $6,000 per year (full tuition at many of Florida’s public universities) plus a $300 stipend for the 2017-18 academic year; students who received a 3.0 and either an 1170 (SAT) or 26 (ACT) received a 75% tuition scholarship. The concern was whether or not this program would be a ‘one and done’ proposition or would be extended beyond the current academic year.

Yesterday, we got some good news out of Tallahassee: both Florida chambers voted to ‘permanently’ extend this full tuition benefit. Now the bill awaits Gov. Rick Scott’s signature.

Of course like most things, the devil is in the details and the program is not without its share of critics and unintended consequences (see also our commentary on New York’s ‘free’ tuition plan on collegepete.com). For now, though – we’ll take it! As of this writing, we expect 100,000 students to benefit from this iteration of the Florida Bright Futures program, at a cost to the state of approximately $124 million.

What this means to our Florida readers: First if your student is close (test-wise) to qualifying for the Academic Scholars level (a 29 on the ACT and a 1290 SAT), you might want to consider having them sit for one last SAT or ACT between now and June (scores will be considered from tests taken before June 30).

Second, regardless of whether your child is planning on attending a Florida school, you should insist that they complete the Bright Futures Application. It takes 5 minutes and you never know. With this change, Bright Futures could be worth as much as $24,000 over four years, and without a submitted application on file before August, they will NOT see any of it. I know that MOST of your 12th grade children have already taken care of this, but if they haven’t, please insist that they do so immediately (www.floridastudentfinancialaid.org)

What this means to all of our readers: As with any legislative initiative (including the NY program and DC TAG), the scholarship program is subject to political and economic externalities that are virtually impossible to predict. Case(s) in point:

  • Funding for The DC Tuition Assistance Grant, a program that provides up to $10,000 toward the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition at public colleges and universities (two-year and four-year) for DC residents is being targeted in the proposed White House budget; and
  • NY has only appropriated $87 million for the first year, and $163 million for the first 3 years for their ‘Free Tuition Plan’ – less than what’s been budgeted for FL Bright Futures.

In all cases, budgets are subject to financial conditions and even when fully funded, these types of programs often have trouble meeting the demand for them. If/when that happens, states often consider a number of sub-optimal remedies including income-testing the benefit, raising standards for merit-based awards, first-come first-served, or instituting lottery systems to allocate scholarships. Imagine that?

In short, all of these state-funded initiatives are great and we welcome them, but they cannot necessarily be relied upon as the sole strategic component of any sound college funding plan.

Let us know what you think?

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