No scholarship that Florida offers to university students should be immune from budgetary pressures, but the swipe Gov. Charlie Crist would take at private college grants this fall is too abrupt and could leave some high school seniors out in the cold.
Many of these students already have been accepted to college and have built a financial plan that includes the Florida Resident Access Grant. Removing that $3,000 grant at this point could undermine a student's academic dreams. That Crist chose to keep the grant in place for students entering historically black private colleges only serves to highlight the capricious and political nature of his recommendation.
This is not to suggest that the $102-million-a-year FRAG program is above financial scrutiny, particularly in a year when the budget situation is so dire that public universities are planning to cut enrollment by as many as 17,000 students. A Senate committee, in fact, has raised some legitimate questions of accountability for the students and private colleges receiving the money.
FRAG is not tied to student need or academic merit, and the committee found that it is the most lucrative program of its type in the nation — accounting for one of every three dollars spent in the 10 states that report offering such aid. A recent Senate report found wide variations in graduation rates and concluded: "The two purposes of the program are to provide access to a postsecondary degree and to do so at a reduced cost to the state. There are no measures in place to permit the state to determine whether the program is meeting these goals."
The problem with the Crist approach is that it is precipitous and treats the private college grant in isolation from all other scholarship programs. If the state must reduce scholarships in order to help undergird its struggling universities, then lawmakers should also be discussing the biggest one of all. Bright Futures is a merit-based scholarship whose standards are so generous that it cost $399-million this year. If money is short, shouldn't students with the greatest financial need be the highest priority?
FRAG and Bright Futures both serve noble ends, and the better answer is to provide what Crist has promised but not delivered: a stable source of financial support for higher education. Pitting student scholarships against university budgets is another symptom of failure.