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Context Florida: Ed Moore: Let’s keep a bright focus on ‘Bright Futures’ program

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I have always admired the name of the state’s ambitious higher education financial aid program, “Bright Futures.” It says much about the intent of the state of Florida.

The program was designed to help the state’s “best and brightest” high school seniors. But the name also connotes the state’s intent to create a future that shines brightly. The program is an investment in our youth who we expect to build a “bright future” for Florida.

But over the years the program grew expensive. The emphasis was to use the grants to assure that our “best and brightest” students attend Florida schools.

In large part, I think that was a vague goal. Who really knows what factors the most accomplished students and their families consider when choosing a college.

An analysis of the top 10 percent of each class over time, before and after Bright Futures, will likely find similar numbers of students heading to prestigious schools outside Florida.

Certainly many families consider the state grants when deciding where to attend. Certainly the grants are critical to many middle and lower income families. Bright Futures has made college more affordable for hundreds of thousands of recipients over the life of this excellent program.

Perhaps it’s time to develop new goals for the program. Perhaps it’s time to recognize that helping students attend school has value to the future of Florida. Perhaps it’s time to recognize that rewarding students for their high school efforts has value.

While difficult to quantify, there’s value in rewarding students’ achievements and effort.

Over the past decade, the state has spent enormous amounts of money to lure businesses to Florida and expand the ones already here. State and local communities do the same with grants, taxing districts, special funds, etc.

Student financial-aid programs serve as investments too. Our students will be our employees, innovators and investors of our future. Surely if we can spend billions on economic development, we can spend similar amounts investing in our brainpower.

A recent Florida Trend article outlined even more potential changes to the Bright Futures program. My view is that the changes already made in recent years should be allowed to take effect. Then we can analyze them and determine the true impact of the tightened standards.

Who has been helped and who has been harmed by these changes? Have they reduced access for many students? Keep in mind that without financial support many of those B-level students might not be able to develop into A-level students. How many of those who no longer qualify have had to work while in high school to survive? Not everyone has the luxury of only going to school and perhaps doing extracurricular activities.

On the one hand, the state seeks more qualified college graduates while at the same time less money is available in this program to develop them. Furthermore, the state did not fully move the saved dollars to need-based aid programs as has been encouraged by groups such as The Florida Council of 100.

We should view Bright Futures and other student aid as a way to tell students, “We want to invest in you. We want you to stay in Florida for school. We want you to be an integral part of the future of Florida, a Bright Future for all of us!”

Florida should conduct a thorough analysis to determine the effects of the changes already made to Bright Futures before making additional changes. We want to provide young Floridians with easy access to higher education and reasonable financial aid is essential to make that happen.

Ed Moore

President and CEO

Florida’s Independent Colleges and Universities

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