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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Bright Futures under the microscope



Yesterday the state Board of Governors, which oversees Florida's 11 public universities, put out a call to remind students that if they plan to receive any financial aid -- federal, state or both -- they've got to fill out the lengthy Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It's part of a new legislative requirement, and the deadline to apply is June 30.

The online application (found here) is known by students as a sort of necessary evil. It takes forever to fill out and requires an a slew of documents to complete. A calculator nearby is a must when it comes time in the process to launch an inquisition of parents' tax returns. It's a lesson in patience, to put it lightly.

The application is nothing new. What's different is now it's not just required for federal need-based aid. If you haven't noticed the elephant in the room, allow us to introduce you to Bright Futures.

The Bright Futures Scholarship Program, funded by Florida lottery dollars, has been under scrutiny in recent years as universities struggle to fill budget shortfalls. In the past, the merit-based scholarship program paid either all or 75 percent of students' tuition, depending on their grades or test scores. It now funds most of students' tuition, excluding yearly tuition differential increases.

There's been talk of limiting the scholarship even further, perhaps tying it more to students' financial needs. This new FAFSA requirement presents a good opportunity to assess how many Bright Future scholarship recipients actually need that financial aid.

“In addition to now being a legislative requirement, the FAFSA is quickly becoming the primary tool for assessing financial aid eligibility, beyond its traditional usage for federal aid options such as grants and loans – so we are today sending out that message loud and clear," said State University System Chancellor Frank T. Brogan. “Further, it is a significant process in order to prepare the completed application to be reviewed by the federal government, so we want to especially ensure any family or student who may qualify for a myriad of financial aid options has completed the application properly and on time.”

The BOG didn't mention Bright Futures specifically in its news release on Wednesday. Changing that scholarship's requirements would be up to the Florida Legislature.

Meanwhile, a Florida State University education professor just got a $780,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to study Bright Future's efficiency. Shouping Hu said he'll examine "whether and how a high-profile state program can make a difference in student postsecondary educational opportunities." The grant is for three years, and Hu said he plans to hire several research assistants to help.

We'll be watching.

[Last modified: Thursday, June 23, 2011 2:34pm]


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