Bright Futures bill a welcome boon for in-state students

Closure is always good. Even when it’s not from an ex, but from the unlikely source of the Florida Senate finally making good on a promise to increase in-state scholarship dollars.

This January, the Florida Senate voted “yes” on a bill that would, in part, make permanent the Bright Futures funding boosts students were so tantalizingly teased with last summer. Students at Florida’s public schools had 100 percent of their tuition covered. However, even eligible in-state students at private schools like University of Miami saw scholarships increase as a part of this deal. Academic Scholars – an award level based on academic and service achievement in high school – saw their per-credit scholarship almost double to $211, while Medallion Scholars, a tier lower, got $77.

The funding was disbursed from the start of this school year, with one little caveat: no one knew if it would be here to stay in future years. If Senate Bill 4, or the Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act, passes through the Florida House, the funding seems set to do just that.

Since the scholarship covers a relatively small group – fewer than 4,000 students received the Academic Scholars award at all of Florida’s private universities in 2016 – this change may not be the biggest policy to ever rock the Coral Gables campus. But it’s something.

Bolstering programs like Bright Futures gives students more than palm trees and beautiful beaches to appreciate in their choice to stay in state. The state is home to some renowned schools – Florida was named U.S. News and World Report’s best state for higher education in 2017 – and students ought not feel like they need to escape it to get a good education. Now, it is at least a little easier for them to plant their roots here.

Why not, when it costs even less than it did before?

The bill includes funding for need-based aid, too, though Bright Futures is clearly its shining point. While more can (and should) be done to boost need-based programs, merit and need are not mutually exclusive. Taxpayers can be sure that at least some of the funding goes to students who truly need it and will use it to make those dreaded make-or-break decisions (Can I even go here? Can I take that extra semester?) a little easier.

While higher education should be hard, the stress and brain strain should happen in the classroom, not the bank. Bright Futures’ new-and-improved funding might just be here to stay and is a positive thing for current and incoming students alike, setting a good precedent for state scholarships to come.

Grace Wehniainen is a junior majoring in motion pictures.