Florida Looks to Redirect Merit-Based Aid to Students in Need: Black Students at Florida A&M University May Be the Chief Beneficiaries

Students in Florida who graduate from high school with a 3.5 grade point average are eligible for a Bright Futures scholarship which will pay full tuition at a state university. Students with a 3.0 GPA can have the state pay 75 percent of their tuition costs.

The program began in 1997 with 42,000 students and a price tag of $70 million. Now the program has mushroomed to 150,000 students and costs the state $400 million. The program is financed from proceeds of the Florida Lottery.

Legislators in Florida have been reluctant to raise tuition at state universities because of their binding commitments under the Bright Futures scholarship program. If tuition is raised $1,000, then students who qualify for a 100 percent tuition waiver under the Bright Futures program will get another $1,000 from state coffers. This would greatly increase the amount of state spending on the program. But the legislature’s reluctance to raise tuition has resulted in the fact that state universities in Florida are having a difficult time balancing their operating budgets. Tuition at public universities in Florida is very low compared to most other states.

Now a new proposal would cap spending on the Bright Futures program at the current $400 million level. Of the $400 million, one fourth of the money would be redirected to need-based scholarship programs. The change could be a major boost to black higher education in Florida. Currently, students at Florida A&M receive about $4.8 million in merit-based aid from the program. Under the new plan, students would receive about $10 million just from the need-based portion of the Bright Futures program.