Florida Republicans proposing changes to Bright Futures, student financial aid

Students would be required to major in certain tracks leading ‘directly to employment’ to receive full benefits

Legislation filled by an Ocala state senator would make major changes to state financial aid for college students, requiring grants to be reevaluated each semester and limiting funding for certain majors.

Legislation filed by an Ocala state senator would make major changes to state financial aid for college students, requiring grants to be reevaluated each semester and limiting funding for certain majors.

SB 86, filed by Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, would require the eligibility for state financial aid and tuition assistance be reviewed each term and be based on the student’s program of study.

Under the bill, the Board of Governors and the State Board of Education would each need to approve a list of career certificate, undergraduate and graduate degree programs “that they determine lead directly to employment.” These lists would need to be updated annually, according to Baxley’s bill. Students whose majors aren’t on the list would receive less funding from the Bright Futures Scholarship.

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Jocelyn Meyer, a senior at Rockledge High School, said a lot of students are talking about the new legislation that’s been filed.

“I felt personally attacked because my degree would most-likely not fall under that,” said Meyer.

Meyer said she wants to major in geography or international studies. Then continue on to graduate school.

“Potentially work for the Peace Corps. That would get me the experience to work for a non-governmental health organization like the World Health Organization or Centers for Disease Control,” said Meyer.

Meyer is afraid the track she planned for college won’t be paid for, even though she worked hard to meet all the criteria for a full-ride Bright Futures Scholarship. Funding she is depending on to get through college.

“It would be crushing to have to reevaluate whether that’s something I’m actually passionate about, or willing to give up just to have an education that’s paid for,” said Meyer.

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“We want all of our students to succeed in meaningful careers that provide for their families and serve our communities. As taxpayers we should all be concerned about subsidizing degrees that just lead to debt, instead of the jobs our students want and need. We encourage all students to pursue their passions, but when it comes to taxpayer-subsidized education, there needs to be a link to our economy, and that is the goal of this legislation,” Baxley said in a statement. “We also want to make it easier for returning students who did not finish high school to have access to certification programs at our colleges and career centers. Dropping out of high school in your teenage years shouldn’t be a lifelong barrier to a good job.”

The bill specifically targets the Bright Futures Scholarship, Florida Academic Scholars and Florida Medallion Scholars.

Bright Futures students are currently eligible for 100% or 75% of tuition but under this bill that would depend on their education track.

Democratic Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani said Bright Futures made cuts when she was in college, putting her and other financially strapped students in a difficult position to find funding elsewhere or drop out.

“I went to UCF on Bright Futures and wouldn’t be here today without it,” said Eskamani. “We need to protect and enhance Bright Futures not cut it.”

Along with the changes to Bright Futures, the proposal would also create two new financial aid programs.

The Florida Bright Opportunities Grant Program would benefit Pell Grant-eligible students in a certificate or associate degree program who still owe tuition at Florida colleges or career centers after all other federal aid has been applied. This grant would cover tuition and fees, plus a book stipend.

The Florida Endeavor Scholarship would benefit students without a high school diploma who wish to enroll in a certificate or high school equivalency program. To qualify, these students would have to earn 225 block hours with a 2.5 GPA.

If approved, the legislation would impact students beginning in the 2022-23 academic year.

About the Authors:

Crystal Moyer is a morning news anchor who joined the News 6 team in 2020.