Bright Futures guidelines promote inequality, not achievement
Many students currently attending USF would have qualified for the Florida Bright Futures Medallion Scholars award based on the previous eligibility requirements of a 3.0 GPA with a score of 21 on the ACT or 980 on the SAT in the 2011-12 year.
In the 2012-13 year, the ACT and SAT minimum requirements jumped to 22 and 1020, respectively. This year, however, the eligibility requirements may be harder to attain, as almost half as many students from last year are estimated to meet the minimum requirements of 26 for the ACT and 1170 for the SAT.
Last year, about 41,107 students were eligible to receive Bright Futures scholarships. Because of the more narrow eligibility requirements, which were instated in 2011 as a way to trim costs and reduce the number of recipients, the number of students estimated to receive the scholarship has been cut to only 21,340.
Perhaps the hardest hit with the new changes will be minority students, as a predicted 60 percent fewer Hispanic students and 75 percent fewer black students would be Bright Futures recipients, according to a USF study. In spite of this drastic reduction, state lawmakers refuse to address how the new guidelines foster inequality and instead promote them as higher standards.
The program has already faced criticism in the state for awarding a disproportionate amount of aid to white or affluent students and, as a result, has been investigated by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights . Now, the OCR is again investigating the program to determine if the new requirements discriminate against minority students.
State Sen. Marco Rubio, who challenged the investigation in a letter to the education department, has concerns unrelated to how the changes affect students. Rather, in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, he suggested reversing the changes will leave the program “financially unstable” without the money saved from students who no longer qualify. He also cited how the new criteria are attributed to heightened expectations with the rise in achievement levels throughout the state, using the obvious defense that the scholarships are merit-based.
However, though all students are at least given the opportunity to qualify for Bright Futures, the reality is that not all will meet the enhanced expectations even if they are otherwise high-achieving students.
At USF, an estimated 40 percent of low-income students, 50 percent of middle-class students, and 60 percent of high-income students would receive Bright Futures scholarships after the changes, according to the USF report.
Standardized testing itself has long been criticized for putting minority and low-income students at a disadvantage. The College Board has even conducted research indicating a student’s socioeconomic background correlates more with SAT scores than GPA and high school rank.
Though the College Board made recent changes to the SAT in order to address criticism labeling it a test based on privilege, standardized testing is now an even bigger hurdle for many students to make even if their GPA is well over the minimum requirement, which remains a 3.0.
However, when new guidelines significantly reduce the amount of students eligible for having roughly half of their tuition and fees at public universities covered by these awards, lawmakers must reconsider their priorities.
Isabelle Cavazos is a junior majoring in English and Spanish.