I think Florida Bright Futures is toast. At least in its current form as a state-funded merit scholarship program.
This is just my opinion. After reading my comments below, you may reach a very different conclusion about the goals, strategy and future of Bright Futures. That’s ok.. I’m just glad we’re having the conversation.
Much earlier today I read two stories about our state university system in the Herald. Neither mentioned the Bright Futures Sholarship program. Both should have, and it’s been annoying me all day.
First the article: Gov. Scott wants to know why our public universities keep raising tuition prices, but turning out students who do not have the skills to fill what our workplace actually needs. Where did all the scientists and engineers go? In a rebuttal column, Fred Grimm editorializes in favor of the softer studies and details some of the potential consequences of eliminating academic programs solely on the basis of employer demand. Though Grimm had his tongue at least partly in cheek, there is a real and growing gap between what America’s employers need and what our college students are learning. Consider this: We’re setting new records in the number of students earning college degrees and in unemployment, BUT there’s mounting evidence that some types of jobs stay open forever. Bet you can guess which ones…
The irony is that Florida was ahead of this problem. When the state legislature passed the Bright Futures Scholarship Program in 1997, the hope was that more of Florida’s best high school graduates would stay in state and that the number of students graduating with highly sought science, technology, engineering and math (STEM disciplines) degrees would increase. We were half right. More than 150,000 students have received Bright Futures awards and our state university enrollment has indeed soared. But enrollment in STEM fields? That’s actually gone down in percentage terms! One plausible explanation — our students are taking easier classes to make sure that they maintain the GPA requirements to re-qualify for the award.
And not for nothing, the legislature just made those requirements a lot tougher.
So even if they didn’t write about it today, the writing is on the wall. It’s a widely held (and statistically measurable) belief that a properly educated, high-tech workforce can jumpstart a lagging economy. A steady pipeline of skilled technical employees keep and attract businesses. Our students need to become them. Our schools need to grow them. So long as Bright Futures remains a merit-based scholarship with GPA and test scores as the sole criterion, students will be discouraged from pursuing this type of difficult STEM study. This is economically unsustainable. Since the downturn, Bright Futures future has been tenuous at best. It is ripe for an immediate overhaul as a subsidy to students pursuing STEM disciplines. I suspect that it won’t be long before our cash-strapped government reinvents the Bright Futures as the competitive employment tool it was intended as.
What does this mean for you? Well, it’s just a theory today, but if you’re the parent of a future college bound child, I personally think it unwise to count on this program when considering your funding options. Bright Futures’ future is anything but assured. And since your child’s college education is likely to be one of the largest investments you’ll make, and one that will affect not just four years of his/her life, but potentially his next 40, I’d rather err on the side of caution and consider alternate and more reliable strategies. Unsure of what those are, you may want to check out one of my workshops.