Changes in Florida’s Bright Futures Scholarship Program May Disproportionately Affect African-American College Students

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

In 2008 nearly 160,000 students in Florida received Bright Futures scholarships. Of this group, 10,610 recipients, or 7 percent, were African Americans. But blacks make up about 15 percent of the college-age population in Florida. So African Americans are allocated less than half the scholarship money in the Bright Futures program than they would receive if racial parity were to prevail.

This past spring the legislature made significant changes to the Bright Futures program. First of all, Bright Futures scholarship awards were capped at last year’s 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 equal the average tuition for public universities nationwide.

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

Students will now have to complete 24 credit hours each year in order to qualify for the scholarships. This is double the credit hours needed in the past. Thus, the program will not be available for part-time students who are working their way through college and cannot take on a full schedule.

Also, students who drop a course after the traditional drop/add period deadline will be required to refund the state program. For a typical three-credit course, students would be obliged to refund the state about $375. Black and other low-income students will be reluctant to drop courses because of the monetary penalty.

John Barnhill, director of admissions at Florida State University, told the Miami Herald, “I don’t want a system that only lets rich people drop classes.”