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How Bright is the Future for the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program?

Posted by Liz Locke of

A recent article announcing a 3-year, federally funded grant that was awarded to FSU professor Shouping Hu  to study the effectiveness of the Bright Futures Scholarship Program offered an interesting perspective on why the program, after almost 15 years in existence, is so controversial. The perspective is gained, however, not from the article itself, but from the comments that readers have posted.

Just in case you're unfamiliar with the program, the Florida Legislature created the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program in 1997 to reward students for their academic achievements during high school by providing funding to attend postsecondary education in Florida. 

A few Bright Futures facts:

The program was modeled after a similar program in Georgia and proponents argued that the scholarship would entice the best and brightest Florida students to remain in-state.

Funding for the Bright Futures program comes from the Florida Lottery.  Since its inception, the lottery has contributed more than $3.2 billion to send more than 500,000 students to college. 

The program has 3 primary awards -- the Bright Futures Florida Academic Scholar (FAS), Florida Medallion Scholar (FMS), and Florida Gold Seal Vocational Scholar (GSV).  Requirements for each program vary, but general requirements include:

  • Be a Florida resident and a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen, as determined by the student's postsecondary institution.
  • Apply for a scholarship from the program by high school graduation.
  • Earn a standard Florida high school diploma or its equivalent.
  • Be accepted by and enroll in an eligible Florida public or independent postsecondary education institution within 3 years of high school graduation.  If a student enlists directly into the military after graduation, the three-year period begins on the date the student is separated from active duty.
  • Not have been found guilty of, or plead nolo contendre to, a felony charge, unless the student has been granted clemency.
  • Be enrolled for at least 6 semester credit hours (or the equivalent in quarter or clock hours).

The program has, over the years, remained controversial.  Many feel that it is too easy to qualify for the scholarships; legislators recently raised the standards for qualification.  Others believe that the program drains money from other educational programs in the state.  And still others argue that the program takes revenue from the poor and middle class (those likely to purchase lottery tickets), and spends it on scholarships for many students whose families could well afford the cost of tuition. 

On the other side of the argument are people who point out that the Bright Futures program was specifically established as a scholarship program awarded on the basis of merit, and everyone has an equal chance to qualify.  This year, however, for the first time students will be required to submit a copy of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) with their financial information, leading many to assume that some sort of financial need standard will be incorporated in the program in future years.

The controversy continues.  Comments to the Palm Beach Post article ranged from "Thank goodness there's something out there to reward students for their academic merit. Thank you Bright Futures!" to "Lots of rich folks kids got a free ride in college with bright future when they could very well pay for their kids college tuition...and that is wrong."  Weigh in and let us know what you think!