Many college-bound Florida students and their families take advantage of the state’s generous Bright Futures Scholarship program, which awards students a certain percentage of their tuition as determined by test scores, volunteer hours, high school curriculum and GPA. Currently, students scoring 1290 on the SAT or 29 on the ACT are eligible to receive 100% tuition and fees to attend one of Florida’s public institutions (UF, FSU, and the like) under the program’s Florida Academic Scholarship, assuming they meet the academic and volunteer requirements. The Florida Medallion Scholarship, a partial award consisting of 75% tuition and fees, is given to students who score 1170 on the SAT or 26 on the ACT and meet the academic and volunteer requirements. While the awards are sufficient to cover all or most of tuition and fees at a public university in Florida, they may also be applied to the tuition at private universities in Florida (University of Miami, for instance). High-achieving students are recognized for their hard work and can enjoy the benefits of a more affordable college education. However, a significant change to the program will adversely affect some students from the class of 2021 onward.
As reported by numerous outlets, Florida lawmakers recently passed legislation that would raise the SAT score thresholds for Bright Futures, beginning with the class of 2021 (current sophomores). To receive the Florida Academic Scholarship, students would have to score 1330 (a 40-point increase) on the SAT, and for the Florida Medallion Scholarship, students would need to score 1200 (a 30-point increase). The ACT score requirements have not changed, for now. While intended to increase the rigor and prestige of the Bright Futures program, this legislation ends up hurting Florida students and their families, especially low-income and minority students, who tend to score lower on standardized tests and often lack access to quality test-prep programs. These students will potentially lose thousands of dollars by qualifying for the lower-tier award, or risk not qualifying for either. Regardless of income level, students planning to use the SAT for their Bright Futures eligibility will feel the additional stress of achieving higher scores.
There are a few key points to take away from this discussion. First, students, parents, and schools should be aware of this impending change and plan accordingly. This may mean additional test prep to raise SAT scores, or taking the ACT instead. Additionally, given the politics behind this legislation, and that funding for the Bright Futures program has always been at the whim of Tallahassee, families should not solely rely on Bright Futures to cover tuition and related fees. We recommend that college applicants and their families research scholarships and other educational funding early on in their college search. Lastly, regardless of upcoming changes, eligible students should still apply for Bright Futures whether or not they plan to attend college in Florida. If they stay in-state, they may receive a generous award. If they choose to leave the Sunshine State, they will have created a safety net for themselves in case they decide to come back and finish college here. While this upcoming change may be detrimental to students interested in the Bright Futures program, with some foresight and test prep, it need not prevent them from receiving this worthwhile award.