Letters to the Editor

Change needed in Medallion award

Shame on you, Florida Medallion Scholars: You are getting a free ride and holding back Florida universities.

In the Feb. 12 issue of the Tampa Tribune, an editorial written to prevent the Florida Bright Futures program from going bankrupt in the near future proposes to raise the eligibility requirements of the Florida Medallion scholars from the current SAT score of 970. It mentions, “If the state is serious about improving higher education, it must reconsider giving less-than-average students (Florida Medallion scholars) a nearly free ride on university tuition. If experience shows these students are holding back Florida universities, the bar should be raised.”

If these students were holding back Florida universities, they would be losing their Bright Future scholarships anyway after the first year, as they have to maintain a respectable minimum GPA of 2.75 for continuation. As per the 2004 report made by the Office of General Accountancy of Florida, 71 percent of the Florida Medallion Scholars continue to meet renewal eligibility requirements.

The editorial on raising the bar on Bright Futures to improve Florida universities conveniently left out a critical eligibility requirement for the Medallion Scholars Award. The student, in addition to having a minimum score of 970 in the SAT, should also have a minimum weighted GPA of 3.0 in college preparatory academic courses of English, Mathematics, Natural Science, Social Science and Foreign Language.

To raise the minimum SAT score to more than 970 would disqualify many deserving and creative students – up to 24 percent if increased to 1010 and up to 39 percent if increased to 1050 as per the above mentioned 2004 report – that Florida universities would be lucky to have. Many students work very hard in four years of high school and it reflects in their GPA – not in their SAT score – due to the nature of SAT-type tests. Only verbal and quantitative skills are measured in a time-controlled setting while other types of intelligences, such as spatial, musical, kinesthetic, naturalist, intra-personal and inter-personal are not measured.

A better proposal for qualification would be to keep the current minimum eligibility GPA and SAT score, but then give equal weight to the GPA and SAT scores. A minimum weighted score would then be needed to qualify for the two levels of the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship. For example, if GPA and the SAT score were given a weight of 50 points each for a total of 100 points, a reasonable cut off for eligibility would be 75 points for the Florida Medallion Award and 85 points for the Florida Academic Scholars Award. This would be in addition to the current minimum GPA and scores required on SAT and GPA. For example, the current qualification for the Florida Medallion would result in a minimum weighted score of 3.0/4.0 x 50 + 970/1600 x 50 = 68, which is lower than the proposed qualifying score of 75. However, a student who has worked hard during his or her high school years and scored a weighted GPA of 4.0 (made A’s and B’s in honors college preparatory courses), but scored only a 970 in the SAT would qualify for the Florida Medallion Award with a weighted score of 80.

This combined GPA and SAT weight proposal would disqualify fewer students as compared to a proposal based on increasing both the SAT score – up to 39 percent if increased to 1050 as per the 2004 report – and GPA – 21 percent if increased to 3.25 as per the 2004 report.

Merit-based scholarships are critical to keeping the best and the brightest in the Florida university system; we just have to recognize the diversity of quantifying meritocracy. If you, the Florida Medallion Scholar, feel the same way I do, write a letter to Tampa Tribune at tribletters@tampatrib.com or write to the Florida Senate President Ken Pruitt at pruitt.ken.web@flsenate.gov. Let your voice be heard or someone else will speak for you.

Autar Kaw is a professor in the College of Engineering.