Florida Lottery-funded Bright Futures scholarships struggle to find support
By Erica Eding | firstname.lastname@example.org
The future could be dim for Florida’s Bright Futures Scholarship program.
The program, a source of financial aid for almost 1,000 Flagler College students, is struggling to come up with the money it needs. Bright Futures is funded through the state’s lottery system.
“The problem is, lottery revenue is down,” said Dr. William Proctor, Flagler’s Chancellor and a member of the Florida Legislature.
Currently, Bright Futures pays a percentage of tuition costs. This means that a state school’s tuition can’t increase unless the state can also afford to pay more for the Bright Futures scholarship.
In the future, Proctor said, the Bright Futures program may be separated from tuition costs.
“If Bright Futures had been a set award, whatever the amount, then the legislature each year could set that award based on what the state revenue permitted,” Proctor said.
This would mean that the amount of money students owe for tuition could rise, but the amount of money they receive for their scholarship would not.
Chris Haffner, the director of Financial Aid, said the Bright Futures scholarship is important to Flagler students.
“I think it’s a major factor for whether a Florida student wants to remain in the state of Florida,” said Haffner.
Ben Haley, a senior at Flagler, said he also thinks scholarships for Florida students factor into their choice in college.
“Bright Futures, it helped a lot because it reduced the cost,” said Haley, a Florida resident. “I think Bright Futures is an avenue to reward people for getting good grades.”
The program uses a student’s high school GPA and standardized test scores to determine their eligibility. The student’s financial situation is not a factor.
However, some people believe that Bright Futures should become a need-based award, rather than merit-based. This would allow students who need the money to have a larger percentage of their tuition covered by the scholarship.
Proctor said he doesn’t think this change is likely.
“I think there’s too much of a strong conviction among the legislators that one of the things Bright Futures has done is keep some of our brightest students in the state system,” Proctor said.
With the switch to a need-based program ruled out, Bright Futures still needs funding, and fast. The program’s cost increased by 13.8 percent in 2008, according to Florida’s student financial aid website.
With a struggling economy, the state is having trouble coping with the lack of lottery revenue.
“If there’s anything that this economic depression that we’re going through indicates… [it’s that] what we really need to do is diversify our economy,” Proctor said.
“The key to diversifying the economy is through universities. But if you’re going to be the lowest-funded [school system] in the nation, you’re not going to diversify your economy.”
Proctor said a strong school system could help off-set the damage to Florida’s economy due to the declining tourism, agriculture and real-estate industries.
Strong schools need money to support them. If the state can’t provide it, then the students must. However, raising tuition is also a challenge.
“There’s a lawsuit going on now about who’s going to set tuition,” Proctor said.
The Board of Governors, the group that currently oversees Florida’s colleges and universities, is suing the Florida Legislature, which wants to govern the schools instead. Each group claims that this year, it will be the one to set tuition and decide what to do with Bright Futures.
Between a lawsuit, poor economy and rising cost for the program, the prospects for the Bright Futures scholarship are uncertain.