New Bright Futures rule delays some tuition checks
It seems the new requirement that Bright Futures scholarship recipients pay back the state for any college courses dropped late in the semester is contributing to delays in how quickly the Department of Education doles out the tuition money.
UF student financial affairs director Karen Fooks says UF is half a million dollars short of the $77-million it should have gotten from the state to cover its students on Bright Futures this spring semester. And the scholarship money UF has gotten since January came in "bits and pieces," Fooks said.
"They haven’t told us right out that they don’t have the money, but it’s certainly slow in coming and they seem to be dragging it out," Fooks said. "And you know, we don’t have half a million dollars laying around.”
Bright Futures usually works like this: The DOE maintains a database of all eligible students and the college they plan to attend. The DOE sends enought Bright Futures money to cover those students' tuition, and the university or college then cuts a check back to the students (who often send the money right back to campus to pay their bill for classes). In many cases, students have Bright Futures and other scholarships or prepaid tuition plans, so the Bright Futures money helps cover their rent, books or even food.
But this year is different because of the state law passed last year requiring students to pay back the state for any courses dropped after the drop/add period in the first few days of each semester. For a three-credit course, the bill would be about $375
The law went into effect for the first time in the fall, and universities had until 30 days after the fall semester ended to collect the dropped class money from students and then pass it along to the DOE.
UF paid all the dropped courses fees back on time, Fooks said. But when spring classes began, the Bright Futures allotment sent to UF "was way short," Fooks said.
"When we contacted them, they said they were waiting for the schools to send the refunds back from the fall dropped classes," she said. "It’s been a constant battle. We got $1 million a few weeks ago, but we needed $1.7 million. Today we checked again, and we had gotten another $354,000. It comes in bits and pieces."
The delay has affected some 375 students, some of whom are getting interest-free small loans from UF to get by while they await their scholarship money.
It was unclear Friday afternoon whether the delay is happening in other universities. The DOE's press office was looking into the issue, as were financial aid directors at other institutions.