Outlook for Black Student Participation in Florida’s Bright Futures Scholarships Looks Increasingly Dim

Students in Florida who graduate from high school with a 3.5 grade point average and score 1270 on the combined mathematics and reading sections of the SAT college entrance examination are eligible for a Bright Futures scholarship. In past years these scholarships paid full tuition at a state university. Students with a 3.0 GPA were eligible for a Bright Futures scholarship, which paid 75 percent of their tuition costs.

In 2009 the legislature made significant changes to the Bright Futures program. First of all, Bright Futures scholarship awards were capped at 2008 levels. The legislature then authorized state universities to raise tuition by as much as 15 percent per year until a time that the tuition costs at Florida universities equaled the average tuition for public universities nationwide.

Most state universities in Florida promptly raised tuition. As a result, Bright Futures scholarships no longer pay the full cost of tuition. And the students least likely to be able to afford these additional costs are those from low-income families, a group that is disproportionately black.

Because of the fact that these merit-based awards are tied to standardized test scores where blacks traditionally score significantly below whites, only about 7 percent of the students who receive Bright Futures scholarships are African Americans. But blacks make up about 15 percent of the college-age population in Florida.

Now the state Senate has approved a measure that will make it even harder for black students to qualify for these scholarships. The bill raises the combined SAT score from 1270 to 1290 for students to receive the larger monetary award. For the smaller scholarship, the SAT threshold rises from 970 to 1050.

The average combined reading and mathematics score on the SAT for blacks in Florida is 862, almost 200 points below the threshold for qualifying for a Bright Futures scholarship. The average score for white students in Florida is 1048. Thus, almost half of all white students will qualify for a scholarship.