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Pending bill in Senate targets financial aid for students

By Kayla Gayle, Student Life Editor

Significant changes may be made to state-provided financial aid for college students due to a new bill introduced to Florida’s Senate.

Senate Bill 86, filed by Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley on Feb. 23., would require the Board of Governors and the State Board of Education to approve a list of degree programs that would “lead directly to employment.” Legislators would be required to update the list every year on Dec. 31.

Students whose majors or career pathways are approved by the bill are eligible for a full scholarship, whereas other students would receive less funding from the Bright Futures Scholarship.

“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. “We encourage all students to pursue their passions, but when it comes to taxpayer-subsidized education, there needs to be a link to our economy, and that is the goal of this legislation.”

Through the bill, legislators would also be required to set the values of the Bright Futures scholarship awards as they evaluate the budget each year.

If a student’s major isn’t on the approved list, they would only be funded for up to 60 credit hours, which is equivalent to two years of tuition or half the credits for a bachelor’s degree. 

The proposal would also limit awards given to students with college credits through “articulated acceleration mechanisms” such as Advanced Placement testing and dual enrollment courses. The maximum number of credit hours that can be awarded by Bright Futures would be reduced by the number of postsecondary credit hours earned through the student’s high school career. For example, if a student enters a state university with 30 credits from AP exams, their Bright Futures award would only be available for 90 credits, about three years for a full-time student.

However, the bill would also open new scholarship pathways for students who earn an associate’s degree through dual enrollment or an AP Capstone Diploma with scores of four or higher on six AP exams.

It additionally allows for students who have remaining Bright Futures credit hours to apply those credits to a graduate study if it is on the approved list of programs.

The legislation would also implement two new tuition aid programs: Florida Bright Opportunities Grant Program and Florida Endeavor Scholarship. 

The Bright Opportunities Grant would allow for Pell Grant-eligible students in a certificate or associate degree program with left-over student debt, after all other federal aid has been applied, to be paid off. The grant would be given on a first-come-first-serve basis and would cover tuition, fees and a book stipend. 

The Florida Endeavor Scholarship would grant a scholarship that covers tuition and fees to students without a high school diploma who wish to enroll in a certificate or high school equivalent program at a career center or college. It would be awarded to students if they earn 225 clock hours with a 2.5 GPA on a first-come-first-serve basis, prioritizing returning students. 

If approved, the bill would become effective during the 2022-2023 academic year.

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