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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bright Futures Scholarships slashed


by Mary Toothman

LAKELAND -- Florida students seeking college degrees during these difficult economic times now face a 20 percent drop in Bright Futures scholarship money and predicted tuition hikes.

Budget cuts passed by the Legislature earlier this month and approved by Gov. Rick Scott last week slashed the amount students can receive from Bright Futures, a lottery-funded scholarship program.

The average award last year at four-year public universities was about $5,000. The decrease likely will average about $500 less next year. The exact amounts available will not be known until this summer, according to the state.

Scott last week also approved giving state universities and colleges the authority to boost tuition by at least 8 percent.

In passing the Bright Futures decreases and tuition increases, legislators earlier this month said spending cuts were made in nearly every part of the state budget to avoid a possible $3.75 billion revenue shortfall.

Tuition increases have the potential to generate $68 million annually for colleges and $111 million for universities, said Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. The Florida Department of Education says the Bright Futures cuts will save the state about $87 million next year.

"We had to do that to allow them to maintain the quality of education," Stargel said. "Florida still has some of the lowest-priced universities in the country. We still do very well, value to dollar. We have some of the best quality and the lowest cost."

The average cost of tuition and fees at state universities in 2010-2011 was just less than $5,000 for 30 hours of classes, according to the Florida Board of Governors website.

Cuts had to be made across the board, Stargel said. "The reason we had the cuts is the downtown in the economy, and we don't have the resources we have had in the past," she said. "Tax revenues are down."

Most colleges have been braced for reductions.

At Warner University, where 99 percent of about 1,100 students rely on financial aid, dean of enrollment Kevin Jones said funding is always a concern for the faith-based private school just south of Lake Wales.

"We have been preparing our current and prospective students for the possibility of decreases in federal and state aid, such as Bright Futures, for the past few years," Jones said.

Florida's private college students who receive Florida Resident Access Grants (FRAG) will also see those amounts decrease. FRAG provides tuition help to the state's undergraduate students attending eligible private, non-profit Florida colleges or universities.

"Typically, the only students who do not receive financial aid are graduate students who do not take federal student loans and international students who do not take standardized tests," Jones said, meaning such tests as the ACT and SAT. "The average financial aid award, including grants, scholarships and loans, was $13,500 last year."


The cuts have the attention of Alejandra Cardoze, 21, who is a Warner student and a Bright Futures recipient.

"It will impact me, because it (Bright Futures) helps me pay for my school," she said. "I do have other financial aid and some scholarships, but with the exact amount I receive is how all of my studies are paid for. Once one of them is reduced, it throws off the whole balance, and I am stuck needing to pull more student loans, which add up.

"It's such a struggle when each year your financial aid amount changes and varies. I do have to work to be able to pay for my expenses and housing, so reducing the money that I get to pay for school makes me struggle a lot economically."

Cardoze said she knows she's not alone.

"A lot of students talk about how they are struggling economically and how they need to work more to pay for their expenses, and, in some cases, pay for school, or both," she said. "I do not believe many students know about the reduction of Bright Futures, which actually is a scary thought, because if they aren't informed, it's going to hit them out of the blue, and they are going to go through some hard struggles."

Peter Elliott, vice president and CFO of Polk State College, called the Bright Futures cuts "significant but not catastrophic."

Changes in state and federal aid programs also make it increasingly complex for colleges and universities to administer them.

Teresa Vorous, Polk State's controller and acting director of financial aid, said proposed changes to federal Pell Grant funding add to the uncertainty. A Pell Grant is money the federal` government provides to help students whose personal or family incomes are below a certain level.

"The recent change to delete the new year-round Pell awarding could force some students to slow the pace of their studies," she said.

"Additionally, we are aware of proposals to substantially reduce Pell awards in future years. This could make it increasingly difficult for some students to complete their educations. Our students are challenged by the unpredictably. Washington and Tallahassee are both making changes. We just don't yet know exactly which changes will become law, and the impact those changes will have."

Polk State College officials recited a number of ways their 20,000 students can receive assistance. The college now acts as a direct lender, refers students to its foundation for supplemental need-based scholarship funding, provides a tuition payment plan, has a textbook-leasing program and offers of courses in various locations to save on transportation costs.


Vorous said there have been increasing numbers of students referred to the Polk State College Foundation for supplemental, need-based scholarship funding, "but the Foundation's funds for those 'emergency cases' are stretched thin. This economy has hit students hard, and that ultimately transfers the strain to our resources as well."

Robert Tate, vice president for external affairs at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, said cuts to FRAG, which assists students who choose to attend a private college, combined with Bright Futures cuts, are a consideration for many at of school's 2,149 students.

Based on credit hours, FRAG has paid $94 per hour but will be reduced to $76, Tate said. Last year, the average FRAG scholarship for FSC students was $2,425 for the year. For 2011-12, the average will be $2,149, an average reduction of $276 for each qualifying student.

"What we're most grateful for is that the Legislature has been sensitive. In a year of difficult budget decisions, they were able to preserve as much of the FRAG funding as they could," he said. With about 2,149 students, the college has 814 who receive Bright Futures and 1,291 who receive FRAG funding.

"We have had, in the last two or three years with this downward economy, a number of students each year who talk to us about one or both parents losing their jobs," Tate said. "That makes it much more difficult for them to continue their educations."

The private, Lakeland-based college works to assist students and families.

"We do have donors," Tate said. "We have an emergency student scholarship fund, and some donors choose to contribute to it to help. We have a student solution center, where students can go to receive advice and help. We want to do everything in our power to help these students continue and complete their education."

At University of South Florida Polytechnic in Lakeland, Jan Lloyd said many programs are available to help the student body of about 4,300 -- including a food bank. The school recognizes these will be hard times.

"We want to be sure that our USF Poly students have every opportunity to succeed and complete their degrees," said Lloyd, who is acting assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of students.

Florida Southern College student and Bright Futures recipient Tonda Wooten, 21, said she's looking at the bright side. The student, who is from Lynne Haven in the Florida Panhandle, said she's glad the cuts weren't more severe.

"Of course it's a concern, absolutely," Wooten said. "In this economy, any cut in funding is going to affect us. But a lot of us are just grateful it wasn't that much. We're thankful he (Gov. Scott) didn't cut it altogether."

Mary Toothman can be reached at or 863-802-7512.

1 comment:

  1. Especially, since many universities have slashed their budgets in recent years, getting a scholarship or assistantship has become extremely competitive. I wanted to thank you for this special read. I definitely savored every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.