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Florida College Students Enrolling For Fall Classes Get Boost From Bright Futures Changes

Miami Herald
Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott approved a record $519 million for the Bright Futures program.

Florida "medallion scholars" will be among the biggest beneficiaries this academic year of the state's efforts to expand financial aid for university and state college students.

As students enroll for their fall classes this month, the projected 46,000 medallion scholars will have their Bright Futures scholarships increased to cover 75 percent of tuition and fees, up from a prior scholarship amount that covered about half of the cost. Tuition and fees average more than $210 per credit hour at the larger state universities.

In addition, the expansion will allow medallion scholars to use their merit-based scholarships for summer classes in 2019.

The expansion is part of a record $519 million Bright Futures program approved this year by lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott. Funding for the medallion portion of the scholarships increased from about $85 million in 2017-2018 to about $190 million this year.

The funding and changes, which are included the new $88.7 billion state budget and related legislation (SB 4), also make permanent the expansion of aid for the top-performing Bright Futures students, known as "academic scholars," to cover 100 percent of tuition and fees. They also receive $300 for the fall and spring semesters for the cost of textbooks.

The academic scholars, who will total about 48,000 this year, were able to use their Bright Futures aid for summer classes in 2018, which is the first time that has occurred since 2000-2001 budget year.

The Bright Futures expansion will largely benefit students attending Florida's 12 state universities. But the scholarships also help students studying at Florida’s 28 state colleges, with more than 6,000 college students qualifying for medallion aid in 2016-2017 and about 1,750 qualifying as academic scholars.

Although state analysts are still refining their latest projections for the aid programs, preliminary data also showed more than 195,000 students will benefit from the state’s largest need-based aid, known as "student assistance grants." The average award this year is expected to be just under $1,400 per student.

About 86 percent of that aid will benefit students attending public universities and colleges, and the remainder will help students at private schools and other post-secondary programs.

Meanwhile, more than 39,000 state residents attending private colleges and universities in Florida will benefit from the newly renamed "effective access to student education (EASE)," grants program. The maximum award for those scholarships, which total $137 million, will increase from $3,300 to $3,500 this academic year. EASE formerly was known as the Florida Resident Access Grant, or FRAG, program.

Schools projected to have the largest number of EASE grants include Bethune-Cookman College (2,300), Keiser University (7,000), Nova Southeastern University (2,150), Southeastern University (2,100) and the University of Miami (2,400).

Also, the Benacquisto scholarships, which cover full tuition and fees and provide a generous living allowance for National Merit scholars, will be expanded to include out-of-state students for the first time this year.

State analysts project more than 1,100 students in the program in 2018-2019, with approximately 59 out-of-state scholars.

The aid expansion comes as Florida continues to provide higher education to students at one of the lowest costs in the country. In 2017-2018, the College Board reported Florida’s average $6,360 in tuition and fees to attend a public four-year school ranked second-lowest in the nation, below the national average of $9,970.

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