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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Thousands to lose Bright Future Scholarships

From the Gainsville Sun

by Nathan Crabbe

Proposed changes to the Bright Futures program would mean thousands of University of Florida students would lose their scholarships.

The proposal would increase eligibility requirements for students receiving a Bright Futures scholarship award renewal.

Current GPA Requirements FY 2011-12
Scholarship Award Initial/Renewal
Academic Scholar 3.5..........3.0
Medallion Scholar 3.0...........2.75

Proposed Renewal Requirements
FY 2012-13
Academic Scholar 3.25
Medallion Scholar 3.0

FY 2013-14
Academic Scholar 3.5
Medallion Scholar 3.0

The Florida House passed a measure this month to increase the grade-point average required to renew the scholarships. UF has identified more than 3,300 students who would have been able to renew the scholarships under current requirements but not under the changes.

UF interim financial aid director Rick Wilder said his office would work to obtain other aid for students if the changes come to pass.

"It could impact how much loan indebtedness some of our students have," he said.

The proposal would increase the grade-point average needed to renew Academic scholarships, the top Bright Futures award, from the current 3.0 to 3.25 in the next fiscal year and 3.5 the following year. The required GPA for renewal would rise from 2.75 to 3.0 next year for Medallion scholarships.

A UF analysis found that 1,886 students receiving Academic scholarships had a cumulative GPA at the end of the fall term that would currently be enough for renewal but not under next year's proposed changes. Another 1,433 students receiving the Medallion scholarships would be affected.

The changes were part of the House budget passed on Feb. 9 and not included in the Senate version passed last week, so it will be up to the chambers to hash out differences before the final budget is passed.

The proposal comes as Bright Futures in recent years has been cut and the requirements increased to obtain the scholarships.

Academic and Medallion scholarships once covered 100 and 75 percent of tuition respectively, but now pay a flat amount covering a declining share of costs as tuition rises.

Bright Futures cuts have continued as the state faces another deficit. Rep. Marlene O'Toole said in a meeting of the House Higher Education Appropriations Committee, which she chairs, that increased standards are consistent with Bright Futures being a merit-based program.

"We're going to continue to move all the expectations to a higher standard," said O'Toole, R-The Villages.

Changes to Bright Futures have a particular impact on UF, where steep entrance requirements mean 97.5 percent of incoming, in-state freshmen in 2010-11 received the scholarships. Nearly three-quarters of all in-state undergraduates at UF received the scholarships.

The scholarships are part of the reason nearly two-thirds of UF students graduating in 2010-11 had no debt at all, based on loans dispersed through the university. UF President Bernie Machen has cited the figure in seeking legislative approval to raise tuition beyond the 15 percent now allowed.

Changing Bright Futures' renewal requirements at the same time that UF is seeking such increases will make it harder for students to afford tuition, said Robbey Hayes, an organizer with the Gator Student Alliance. The coalition of student groups was formed last year to protest tuition hikes.

"It's really unfair to students in general," he said. "They work hard enough, and now they're going to have to work harder."

But some students agree with the changes. Senior wildlife ecology major Carly Veilleux, a Medallion scholarship recipient, noted that the changes would put the required college grade-point average for renewal in line with the high school grades required to obtain the scholarships.

"If you were able to push yourself to get the scholarship, you should be able to push yourself in college," she said.

Sophomore chemical engineering major Kathy Harcourt said she would still be able to renew her Academic scholarship under the changes. But she said the changes would penalize College of Engineering students in general because of the difficulty of achieving high marks in its majors.

"It's a lot easier to get higher grades in some majors than others," she said.

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