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Students get billed for dropped classes

Florida’s change to the Bright Futures Scholarship Program is already impacting students this semester, with many being billed for withdrawal from classes.

Associate Director of the Office of Financial Aid Steve Runion said as of Tuesday, 152 Bright Futures recipients have dropped a class, and Financial Aid has sent e-mails billing the students per credit hour.

Students can pay for dropped courses with a credit card or e-check through the Online Access Student Information System (OASIS), Runion said. They can also pay at the Cashier’s Office. However, OASIS is the preferred method, he said.

Until the students pay the state for the dropped courses, they won’t be able to register for the spring semester or renew their Bright Futures, Runion said.

Director of the Office of Financial Aid Billie Jo Hamilton said students don’t really think that dropping a class is an expense.

“We want students to think really hard before they drop a class and say ‘maybe I should just buckle down and make it happen and get that grade,'” Hamilton said.

Tuition for in-state undergraduates is $150.10 per credit hour this year, so Florida Academic Scholar (FAS) and Florida Medallion Scholars (FMS) recipients will not receive enough funding to cover the cost of school, Runion said.

The Higher Education Appropriations Conforming Bill (Senate Bill 1696), which was passed July 1, requires students to pay the state the full tuition for any classes dropped or withdrawn from after the drop/add deadline, which is the first Friday of the semester.

Bright Futures has three different award levels based on students’ academics.

Under the new legislation, students in the FAS and Academic Top Scholar (ATS) award levels at four-year universities receive a flat rate of $126 per credit hour. In addition to the flat rate, ATS recipients will receive $54 per credit hour.

FMS recipients at four-year schools will be awarded $95 per credit hour.

Runion said he is not a “big fan” of the dropped class payback requirement.

“My personal opinion is that raising the renewal requirements for Bright Futures was sufficient,” he said. “I think this billing thing is a little draconian – it’s a little much.”

Some students may qualify for exemption from paying the money back, but it does not relieve the student from the responsibility of making up those credit hours to renew their Bright Futures scholarship next year, Runion said.

Students have already begun questioning the effects of the Bright Futures changes, he said.

“I had some students ask me, ‘well am I going to get as much money as I did last year if I only have Bright Futures?’ And the answer is probably no,” Runion said.

By making the repayment for dropped courses mandatory, the state is putting “barriers” in front of students trying to complete their education, Hamilton said.

“In the Financial Aid office, part of the reason we don’t like it is because it’s punitive to kids who can’t afford it,” she said. “If your family income is $15,000 a year and you have to drop a class, you may not have that money.”