Reform Bright Futures Scholarships

By Dorn, Sherman | The Florida Times Union, February 23, 2008 | Go to article overview

Reform Bright Futures Scholarships


Dorn, Sherman, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Sherman Dorn

The debate over Bright Futures is not what some think. It should not be about a fantasy that every parent can send their children with decent grades to Florida's universities without charge.

I wish the state could wave a magic wand to make that happen, because I have two adolescent children who work hard in school. My wife and I would love for them to attend college without our paying a cent. But we haven't believed in magic for a while, and neither should you.

Florida's Legislature has never paid for 100 percent of the costs of undergraduate education, and over the past 15 years, the Legislature has consistently reduced the instructional costs it reimburses universities for.

As Chancellor Mark Rosenberg says, up-and-down funding for our universities looks more like a yo-yo than the result of a thoughtful plan.

The structure of Bright Futures is part of the problem. A Bright Futures scholarship guarantees payment of either 75 percent or 100 percent of tuition and fees, and the lottery does not pay for all of those costs. Taxpayers pay the difference, and the Legislature has tried to maintain authority over tuition to reduce the taxpayer costs of Bright Futures.

The result is a financial mess, where universities do not have enough funding for the students currently enrolled. The Legislature has effectively pitted universities against students by refusing to change Bright Futures.

Some who value Bright Futures talk about the program as if it is a sacred promise to parents, when we should be talking about a sustainable funding model for colleges and universities.

I wish we could talk openly about the second issue, because it's crucial to the future of higher education in Florida.

Because of the state's budget woes this year, the university system's Board of Governors first froze entering-freshman enrollment and then asked universities to reduce enrollment to what is consistent with funding levels. …

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