Higher education support programs face change

During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers eliminated grants that helped students at some private colleges pay for tuition and got rid of an annual textbook allowance for Bright Futures scholarship recipients – but didn’t have not changed the way the $ 650 million Bright Futures program is funded.

Sen. Dennis Baxley in February, tabled a proposal (SB 86) to reduce Bright Futures support for students in fields of study deemed by higher education boards to be unlikely to lead to employment.

The legislation quickly sparked a public outcry led by a group, known as “Save Bright Futures”, made up mostly of potential students.

Senators have consistently backed down on the bill, ultimately proposing that scholarship funding be tied to the amount allocated to Bright Futures in the state budget. This, however, has sparked opposition, as critics have argued that it could threaten program funding and jeopardize a scholarship “guarantee” covering 75% or 100% of tuition and fees.

While the proposal was narrowly passed by the Senate, the House did not accept it.

“I think the commonalities on workforce education are very similar. I think the Senate took a very different path from the one we followed ”, Chris Sprowls told reporters last month, when asked about the measure.

The new state budget “maintains scholarships for Bright Futures students at levels consistent with existing law,” said the Senate Speaker for Education Appropriations. Doug Broxson said during the presentation of the final higher education budget last week.

But lawmakers decided to scrap a $ 37.4 million textbook allowance program for students receiving 100% tuition and fees, known as academics, as part of Bright Futures. The allowance provides $ 600 per year for student textbook costs.

“Keep in mind that this textbook program was only intended for Academic Scholars award winners, so it was only one level of Bright Futures program laureates who actually received this stipend,” said the president of the Chamber of credits for higher education. Rein Plasencia said in a presentation Thursday, the penultimate day of the legislative session.

Plasencia defended the elimination of the allowance, citing the growth of Bright Futures in recent years and adding that the state plans to replace the allowance by increasing the supply of open-access digital textbooks at universities.

Plasencia said lawmakers “believed that investing in inexpensive, free digital licenses for textbooks was the right decision for the long-term sustainability of the program.”

A $ 4.6 million financial aid program called Access to Better Learning and Education, or ABLE, was also phased out in the 2021 session. The elimination of the program, which provides tuition assistance from $ 2,800 to students at some private colleges has been a sticking point for House Democrats.

“Knowing that this causes me heartburn, can you tell me about the reasoning (for) to completely zero … the ABLE program”, Rep. Tracie Davis asked Thursday.

Plasencia called the program a “failure”, adding that lawmakers “must eliminate it”.

“These ABLE schools operate at a very, very low level. And these schools have high tuition fees, ”Plasencia said. “Students go there, have to take out student loans, rack up a lot of student loan debt, come out without a degree or with a degree that has little use or that leads to a job that pays very little.

In addition, new eligibility conditions have been adopted for another financial aid program for students of private colleges and universities. The Student Effective Access to Education Grants, or EASE, provide money to help approximately 41,000 students pay their tuition fees.

Florida’s independent colleges and universities, which represent private institutions, opposed the new eligibility measures. Colleges and universities that receive funding for the grants will be required to report to the State Department of Education parameters such as graduation and retention rates of grant recipients, as well as postgraduate employment data. .

Schools will also be required to report their “access rate” based on the number of students eligible for federal needs-based Pell Grants. Disclosure of an institution’s affordability rate “based on average student loan debt; federal, state and institutional financial assistance; and tuition and average fees ”will also be required.

“ICUF schools that are eligible for EASE will have to perform at a certain threshold in order to continue receiving EASE dollars,” Plasencia said Thursday.

Meanwhile, lawmakers created two new higher education financial assistance programs during the 60-day session.

The Randolph Bracy Ocoee scholarship program, named after the Senator. Randolph Bracy will provide scholarships of up to $ 6,100 to up to 50 students who are descendants of victims of the 1920 Ocoee Election Day riots or current African American residents of Ocoee.

Lawmakers also allocated more than $ 32 million to a dual-enrollment scholarship program to reimburse institutions for the cost of high school students taking courses at colleges and universities.


Republished with permission from the News Service of Florida.

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