Changes to Bright Futures affect all recipients

By Courtney Alberigo, STAFF WRITER
On August 23, 2009

USF senior Kimberly Hull depended on the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program to cover most of her college tuition.

For the 2009-10 academic year, Hull, an education major, will no longer receive the 75 percent tuition coverage she was previously awarded from Bright Futures, and neither will any other recipient.

Hull said she will have to pick up more hours at work.

"I'm going to have to give up some luxuries, such as going out (with friends) and even the quality of apartment I can afford," Hull said.

On June 2, the Florida Legislature passed the Higher Education Appropriations Conforming Bill (Senate Bill 1696), which restructured Bright Futures benefits - including funding decreases and eligibility requirements.

The legislation allowed all state universities to enact a 15 percent tuition increase that Bright Futures will not cover. Instead, the scholarships will remain at a fixed rate and take effect at the beginning of the 2009-10 academic year.

Recipients will receive a fixed cost-per-credit-hour award based on award level, institution type and credit type, according to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE).

Bright Futures has three award levels: Florida Academic Scholars (FAS), Florida Medallion Scholars (FMS), and Gold Seal Vocational Scholars (GVS) for students attending vocational colleges. The FAS level includes Academic Top Scholars (ATS).

Bright Futures will pay a flat rate of $126 per credit hour for FAS and ATS recipients at four-year schools, and $78 per credit hour at two-year schools. ATS recipients will receive $54 per credit hour in addition to their FAS award.

The program will pay FMS recipients $95 per credit hour at four-year schools and $59 at two-year schools.

USF's tuition and fees for in-state undergraduates in the 2009-10 academic year will be $150.10 per credit hour, said Billie Jo Hamilton, director of the Office of Financial Aid.

In addition to lowering the award amount, Bright Futures has also eliminated the FAS college-related expense awards previously used for lab fees and books.

On July 28, a newsletter from University Scholarship and Financial Aid Services (USFAS) was e-mailed to all registered USF students, announcing the changes to Bright Futures, Hamilton said.

The e-mail said that several changes were made to Bright Futures during this year's legislative session.

"Any student that has been awarded Bright Futures, whether they are a new or past recipient, will be subject to the new changes," Hamilton said.

Hamilton said recipients will receive a flat rate regardless of the cost of the credit hour.

"There is virtually no connection between what you're charged as a student and what Bright Futures pays now. It's based on credit hours," Hamilton said.

Lauren Johnson, a sophomore majoring in pre-architecture, said she was initially promised 75 percent Bright Futures when she began college and feels the changes are unfair to students who previously received awards.

"It's going to take a lot more loan money to cover everything now, which will affect me in the future," Johnson said.

Hamilton said another change affecting Bright Futures is the new process of refunding state money for classes dropped or withdrawn by recipients after the drop/ add deadline.

Institutions are now required to refund all non-exempted money back to Bright Futures within 30 days of the end of the semester, she said.

As a result, schools will now make students responsible for paying the full amount for any dropped or withdrawn classes during the school year, Hamilton said.

Students may qualify for an exemption, however, if their class withdrawal was because of verifiable illness or injury, according to the DOE.

In order to renew Bright Futures, students cannot owe money for withdrawn or dropped classes.

If a student does not repay the institution, an "accounts receivable hold" will be placed on the student's Online Access Student Information System (OASIS) account, Hamilton said.

The hold could cancel the student's upcoming semester registration, refuse registration for any future semester until fees have been paid, hold transcripts and grades and withhold a student's diploma, Hamilton said.

About $2.6 million was spent last year on classes that students withdrew from or dropped at USF, Hamilton said.

According to the DOE, starting in the 2009-10 academic year the Florida Legislature requires full-time Bright Futures recipients to earn a minimum of 24 credit hours by the end of spring term. The amount will be prorated for part-time students.

Bright Futures recipients who do not meet the new credit hour renewal requirements will have the opportunity to restore their award the following academic year.

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