Fewer Florida students to receive 'Bright Futures'

What does this mean for our inner-city youth?

Ashley Montgomery | 4/24/2014, 9 a.m.

Tougher requirements in the state’s Bright Futures program have dramatically reduced the amount of students who qualify for scholarships.

Only half of Bright Futures scholarships will be awarded this fall compared to last year.

About 21,340 students are expected to be eligible for the merit-based scholarship this fall, much fewer than the 41,107 who qualified last year.

According to the Florida Student Scholarship and Grant Programs for the upcoming school year, the previous standard for an SAT score increased from 1020 to 1170. The bar was also raised from an ACT score of 22 to 26 to qualify for the Medallion scholarship.

In 2010, the state dramatically increased the required SAT and ACT scores for students graduating in 2014 in an effort to cut program costs. Legislators complained that the qualifications were too low to be considered a merit-based scholarship.

Critics say the new standards are unfair and make it harder for low-income students and minorities to qualify. They also argue most Bright Futures scholarships go to white, affluent families who could afford college without financial assistance.

The criteria, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, hurt many Blacks who tend to score lower on standardized achievement tests that over the years have been criticized as culturally-biased.

Since the program’s inception, more than $4 billion have been awarded to Florida students and the scholarship has helped thousands of students pay for college since its creation in 1997.

Those on the opposite end of the spectrum say that the award is merit-based and has nothing to do with race or one’s financial background. Republican State Representative George Moraitis said because there are limited scholarships available, educators and administrators should be more selective.

“If you’re giving a merit-based award, it should go to the top students in the state,” Moraitis said.

Top students qualify for awards worth as much as $3,100 a year, or half of tuition and fees.

Before 2009, the lottery-funded Bright Futures scholarship paid full tuition and fees at any state public university and 75 percent for students with a grade point average of ‘B’ or higher.

At one point, Bright Future’s budget was $429 million, but that amount has fallen to $306 million.

More reductions are expected to bring that number further down to $180 million by 2017 as fewer students will qualify, according to the state’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

Federal officials are revisiting the case as they question whether the Bright Futures program violates minorities’ civil rights. They’re also concerned that the new qualifications are unfair to economically-challenged students.

To counter the changes, James Sterlin, scholarship coordinator at Florida Memorial University believes that more students need to apply for other scholarships that are not awarded by a government or a school. They encourage students to seek financial help from private companies, charitable organizations or foundations.

“Working here, I have to pull teeth for students to apply and there are a lot of scholarships out there waiting to be given away,” Sterlin said.

The new standards will not affect current recipients of Bright Futures scholarships. Those students will continue receiving money they were originally awarded.

The money is likely going to be out of reach for minorities and those who need it most.

“Incoming freshmen will suffer most,” Sterlin said. “It cuts out more Black students and I think it’s kind of selfish.”