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OPINION: Bright Futures should be provided to every qualified student

The Florida Senate should not pass a bill that would deny access to Bright Futures and other merit-based financial aid to students based on their major. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

The Florida Bright Futures Scholarship and Grant program and other merit-based tuition reduction programs are currently being evaluated by the Florida Senate to allow the grant money to be used on majors the Senate feels are more deserving. 

The Senate bill, or SB 68, was introduced by Sen. Dennis Baxley on Feb. 26 and aims to cut specific majors from eligibility, thus blocking students from some financial aid programs and possibly stopping them from going to college altogether. A student’s financial aid would be evaluated each semester based on their major starting in spring 2022, and their area of study would need to “lead directly to employment” after graduation, as deemed by Baxley. 

A list of majors that could be left out of the Bright Futures program has not yet been provided, but the Florida Senate promised to release one by Dec. 31 and to update it annually. 

Established in 1997, Bright Futures is the largest financial aid program in the state, according to the Florida Journal of Educational Administration and Policy. The program was created to encourage high school students to take more rigorous classes and to improve Florida’s postsecondary education system. 

If passed, the bill would prevent many in-state students from paying tuition and fees at a Florida public university and would reveal the apathy of the state Legislature, since it is attempting to determine which majors are most valuable and better for the economy without considering the needs of its student population. 

The program is funded by the Florida lottery and provided 111,973 Florida students with financial aid in the 2019-20 school year, according to a report by Bright Futures. In that same school year, Bright Futures distributed over $618 million to Florida public university students. 

If reduced or terminated, many of those students would not be able to attend a university, since Bright Futures often covers either 75%, called the Florida Medallion Scholarship, or 100%, called the Florida Academic Scholarship, of tuition. The average tuition of an in-state student for all four years is $95,464, according to the State University System of Florida. Students are currently able to save that money by having their tuition covered by Bright Futures.

Some students will still have access to Bright Futures, like pre-med and engineering students whose majors are more often recognized as financially sound. However, the state government has no right to decide which course of study is most scholarly or impressive. Despite this, Baxley believes that some majors are more important than others. 

“We want all of our students to succeed in meaningful careers that provide for their families and serve our communities. As taxpayers, we should all be concerned about subsidizing degrees that just lead to debt instead of the jobs our students want and need,” Baxley said in a Feb. 23 statement released by the Florida Senate. 

The view that attending a university is only for the sake of capitalism and economic stability is a one-sided perspective. Many students major in subjects like sociology, a degree referenced by Baxley as being worth “two bucks and a cup of coffee in most towns,” to become social workers and help their community. 

Getting rid of the Bright Futures program for certain majors that do not seem to obtain jobs right out of graduation would counter the original intent of establishing Bright Futures, which was to promote rigorous high school courses and improve college life in Florida. If the legislation is passed, the Florida Senate would be actively preventing students with special interests from potentially gaining 100% coverage of their tuition. 

The bill should not be passed in order to provide prospective Florida university students with easy access to merit-based financial aid and prohibit the state government from deciding which fields of study are most important.