A Darker Future for Brighter Futures

Big change is coming for the Bright Futures program. In 2021, SAT

Ms. Vagenas, the director of college counseling, talks with a student about future plans for college.
Student Nilesh Patel (‘22) studies for the PSAT with a geometry booklet.

requirements for Bright Futures will be raised, making it harder to get the scholarship.

The Florida Legislature passed    Senate Bill 190, changing the SAT requirements for the Florida Academic Scholarship (FAS) and the Florida Merit Scholarship (FMS). For FAS, the top tier award, students are required to have a combined score of 1330 out of 1600, which was originally 1290. As for FMS the requirement is changing from 1170 to 1200.
The Bright Futures program is a great opportunity for students who need the money to go to college in state, helping avoid having to take out student loans. “Bright Futures has helped a ton with my tuition in that it allowed me to completely forego having to take out loans,” said Jackson Roberts, a 2019 graduate now at Jacksonville University.
The issue with narrowing the pool is those who really need the scholarships have a harder time receiving it. “Students that struggle to pay for college and are coming from really disadvantaged backgrounds are not going to do as well on their testing,” said Ms.Vagenas, the director of college counseling. “I think that is really going to be prohibitive, and so that scholarship is not going to be benefiting a large number of students that really could use it the most.”
However, students should not worry too much about this change. The college board offers Khan Academy to students to help with test prep. Also, while many prefer Bright Futures there are plenty of other options. There are grants, loans, financial aid and scholarships not dependent on test scores. Furthermore, while SAT requirements are changing, those for ACTs remain the same. So, students are able to submit ACT scores for Bright Futures instead, if that is preferred.
The change is due to the fact the current Bright Future law was based on 2010 SAT scores and didn’t match the test now. The law states top-award winners need SAT score above the 89th percentile, but 1290 was actually the 86th percentile. “It was getting much easier to reach those percentiles,” said Senator Kelli Stargel, the bill’s sponsor, at the Senate’s education committee. SAT percentiles have increased due to the quarter-point  penalty for wrong answers being  removed in 2016.
With more people reaching the SAT requirements, Bright Futures’  budgeting required focusing on a                       smaller group. In 2018, the state gave out more than 40,000 Bright Future awards to new high school graduates. A year of tuition and fees at Florida’s 12 universities averages at $6,100.  Paying for 103,000 students that used the scholarship, Bright Futures spent around $628 million in 2018 alone to help students.
But people should not be too concerned about the issue. Ms. Vagenas’ advice is “that students can feel some control over the situation by working hard and doing their best in the classroom. And recognizing while this scholarship can certainly help pay for some college expenses, it’s not the only scholarship.”