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Florida Senate Wants 81% Increase in Aid for Poorer College Students, and Boost For 1st-Gen

| April 9, 2017

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Looking brighter. (© FlaglerLive)

Although state college leaders are unhappy with a Senate budget that would boost university funding but slash support for the colleges, they are pleased with a Senate effort to expand aid for students who come from lower-income families.

The budget plan (SB 2500), which the Senate will take up Wednesday, would increase the state’s largest need-based aid program, known as Florida student assistance grants, by 81 percent, or $121 million, in the academic year that begins July 1. Senators also want to double the state’s matching grants for “first generation” college and university students to a total of $10.6 million.

The increase in need-based aid, which would also help the university system, is important to the 28 state colleges because their students will not benefit much from the Senate’s plan to expand the Bright Futures merit-scholarship program. The Senate budget would cover full tuition and fees for the top Bright Futures students, known as “academic scholars,” as well as provide $300 for textbooks for two semesters and cover summer tuition.

But out of 46,000 Bright Futures academic scholars projected in the next academic year, only 5 percent of them will be enrolled at a state college.

In contrast, state college students represented 70 percent of the 105,000 students in a public college or university who received a need-based Florida student assistance grant in the 2015-16 academic year, according to the state Department of Education.

Systemwide, state college students received an average grant of $903, ranging from $1,651 at Chipola College to $499 at Broward College. Broward had the most students receiving grants, with 17,000, followed by Miami Dade College with 16,700.

The Senate budget would expand Florida student assistance grants for public universities and colleges from the current year $114.6 million to $208 million. The grants also go for private universities and other post-secondary programs.

“We’re all over the Senate right now because we’re concerned,” said David Armstrong, president of Broward College, referring to the Senate’s proposed budget cuts, including a $55 million reduction in remedial education funding for the colleges.

But it’s a different story with the Senate’s plan to expand need-based aid.

“We have been neglecting the need-based (programs),” said Armstrong, who oversees the second-largest state college in the system, with some 66,000 students. “Kudos to the Senate. I applaud them for addressing the need-based issues.”

The Senate and House are expected next week to approve their budget bills, setting the stage for negotiations on a final spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The House budget plan (HB 5001) would lead to a 5 percent increase in the overall Florida student assistance grants program.

State colleges would also benefit from the expansion of another needs-based aid program in the Senate budget, which would double the state match for students who qualify as “first generation” college or university students. The Senate bill would double the state funding to $10.6 million, meaning for every dollar a college or university raises for the program, it wouldl be matched by $2 from the state.

State colleges should receive about $2.65 million in matching funds from the program, reflecting about quarter of the funds, a proportion that is consistent with what they received in the 2015-16 academic year.

The House budget does not expand the first-generation matching program, nor does it provide any expansion of the Bright Futures merit scholarships.

Ava Parker, president of Palm Beach State College, said less than 2 percent of the 46,000 students on her campus have Bright Futures scholarships and she appreciates the Senate’s effort to boost need-based aid programs.

“The Senate has a real appreciation for (the fact) that we have students who have economic challenges and they’re trying to find ways to assist with that,” Parker said. “I think the Senate is really focused on what things can we do to ensure that folks graduate faster and they understand that the college system is a piece of that puzzle.”

Having said that, though, Parker said she remains concerned about what the college leaders perceive as an imbalance in the Senate higher-education budget that would increase university funding while cutting state colleges. She said the cuts would make it harder for colleges to achieve the Legislature’s goal of graduating more students on time.

“It’s a greater understanding that if you don’t help us also participate in that (funding) equation (with the universities), it’s going to be more difficult for you to reach that goal,” Parker said.

Also, a gap remains for students who rely on need-based aid to attend state colleges or universities. Neither the Florida student assistance grant program nor the first-generation grants can be used during the summer semester.

It is further complicated by the fact that lower-income students tend to rely on a combination of scholarships and grants to pay for their educations. One of the key financial supports is the federal Pell grant program, which since 2011 also has not covered the summer semester.

Over the last year, there has been debate in Congress about making Pell grants available year-round, but that has not become a reality.

Another challenge for financial aid looms in the House, where leaders have raised objections to colleges and universities using public employees in their private foundations, which raise money for the schools.

Armstrong, Parker and other college presidents said limitations on the foundations could hurt their ability to raise money, which at the colleges is primarily used to fund scholarships.

–Lloyd Dunkleberger, News Service of Florida

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10 Responses for “Florida Senate Wants 81% Increase in Aid for Poorer College Students, and Boost For 1st-Gen”

  1. Knightwatch says:

    Yes! We need to help deserving students. But we also need to fund our colleges and universities. In fact, a college education should be free to every resident of Florida. Our future economic and social success is at stake.

  2. anon2 says:

    Why don’t you all do like Georgia did with their Hope Scholarship which is fully funded not by tax dollars but by the lottery? If a child is a B average student in school, they can get in free to any college here in Florida, and have their books paid for as well. They must maintain that B average (3.0), and their parents household income levels must meet certain criteria (make below $80,000 a year or something like that).

    It’s been successful in Georgia since the early 1990s. Do it, Florida!

  3. gmath55 says:

    Students should work to pay for college! That’s what I did. Get a job already! No FREE stuff any more.

  4. Ws says:

    Knightwatch free college for all sound perfect as long as you are paying not me.

  5. Veteran says:

    And who’s going to pay for it?

  6. Knightwatch says:

    To all who wonder who’s to pay for a college education… we all do through our taxes. That’s what enlightened societies do, collectively pay for what the individual can’t. We do that for defense and we should do the same for health care and education… for the good of our society.

    Now for you naysayers… how are the poor, the disadvantaged, and increasingly, the middle class, to pay for college? The answer is, they can’t. They can’t borrow enough and they can’t pay back what they borrow. So, do we grow a society in which only the wealthy, the privileged, go to college? That leads to a lot of people cutting lawns, changing tires and selling hamburgers, none of which pays for housing, families, transportation or health care. The result… social unrest, human degradation and revolution.

    That what you all want?

  7. The Ghost of America says:

    imo if you bitch and moan about how you don’t want your taxes to pay for others going to college then you should be allowed to get those tax dollars back and be banned from any services that depend upon college graduates to function.

  8. r&r says:

    Both pf my boys got a student loan and summer jobs. They both have master degrees and have since paid off the loan.

  9. Dutch says:

    I’m sick of paying for everybody! If your parents can’t afford to send you TOUGH, get a job and figure it out. Stop picking my pockets…..

  10. Sherry says:

    @Knightwatch. . . as usual you are quite correct!!! Those who are themselves educated and desire to live in a “first world” civilized society understand that when citizens come together for the “common good” and are willing to contribute and support the education and success of others, our entire culture is lifted up.

    But then again. . . that attitude would require an open heart and mind and the willingness to actively contribute to a better country and planet for all. People like Dutch actually want a safe, clean, successful community and country. . . they just want “someone else” to pay for it, and their soul is obviously filled with fear and hate for their fellow human beings. . . how terribly sad and pathetic!

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