Since Education Secretary Jim Horne announced his recommendation to the legislature to raise tuition, the future of financial aid funds has been rather dim.
But Thursday, hundreds of students from Florida universities rallied against Horne’s plans outside the state capitol building in Tallahassee.
Horne’s proposal called for a 7.5 percent tuition increase and tighter requirements for those who will be awarded Bright Futures scholarships. The Legislature will vote on the proposal in March.
Mike Griffin, USF student body president, said about 60 students from USF attended the the rally to voice the need for the scholarship.
During the 2001-02 academic year, Bright Futures sent more than 95,000 students to institutes of higher education in Florida.
Griffin said he presented 30,000 petitions that were collected at higher educational institutions during the past few weeks.
“The (signatures) came from all over. We have a lot we have signed and that number is going to keep growing,” Griffin said. “”We had a strong, concise, united message that we sent out today.”
Griffin said he spoke with legislators and the chief of staff, telling them that students can’t afford a cutback in Bright Futures.
Bill Edmonds, director for communication in the Department of Education, said saving Bright Futures is not the main issue because there will be no absolute cuts in the program.
“Times have changed, and it’s not a bad idea to re-examine a program that has been in establishment for half a decade,” Edmonds said. “It’s a lot easier to get Bright Futures now than it was five years ago. We’re not trying to endanger Bright Futures but create money for need-based aid.”
Edmonds said that by limiting the number of Bright Futures recipients more money and resources could be used toward financial aid. Edmonds said institutes need more faculty members to help maintain the quality of higher education.
Griffin said there were some legislators at the rally who supported the students’ concerns to continue Bright Futures as it is. He added that he testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee to tell them that with possible tuition increases students can’t afford to sacrifice financial aid.
“I stated the case that we want the state legislature to keep its promise with Florida to fund Bright Futures appropriately,” Griffin said.
Edmonds said that he understands the students’ frustration, but by rallying, they hurt other students who may have greater needs for financial assistance.
“The students, by rallying, although they’re rallying for a good cause, hope to prevent the legislature from opening more resources for need-based aid,” Edmonds said.
However, Griffin said students will continue to debate the need for Bright Futures by holding a rally at USF. Besides that, Griffin said, students need to be more effective by engaging in more discussions with legislatures.
“Now, we’re going to do a lot more strategic work, and we’ve been doing that a lot already,” Griffin said. “I’m very fortunate to have a good relationship with (Gov. Jeb Bush), and we’re working on getting a meeting with him and all the student body presidents. We’re going to work our tails off until we’re successful.”