Tracy Davis, a University of Florida financial aid adviser, shows criminology student Christian Knappins a Bright Futures flier in the University of Florida's Criser Hall in January. A Florida Senate panel backed a bill Wednesday that would expand Bright Futures scholarships, impose stricter graduation standards and increase financial aid for first-generation students.(File/WUFT News)

Proposed Bright Futures Extension Could Mean More Summer Students

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Worry and confusion shook Christian Knappins when he logged into his online University of Florida account and found out that he had been kicked out of his summer classes.

When he went to the university’s financial aid office to find out why, Knappins was told he hadn’t paid his tuition.

The 20-year-old UF criminology student’s response: Bright Futures covers everything.

Theirs: Not for summer courses.

“When I started at UF in summer 2014, I was dropped from all of my classes because I didn’t pay for them,” Knappins said. “I wasn’t aware I would have to pay out-of-pocket because it wasn’t available for summer.”

But under a new plan Gov. Rick Scott recently proposed for state Legislature’s 2017 session, Florida college students could have Bright Futures cover their summer terms in addition to fall and spring. The plan also removes sales tax for textbook purchases and freezes student fees.

Some students, though, already have their summer classes covered by Bright Futures. Those in the UF Innovation Academy, for instance, take classes only in the spring and summer and thus have their summer terms covered by the scholarships.

The bill would be beneficial to students in situations like Knappins’, said Rick Wilder, director of UF’s Student Financial Affairs.

“I can tell you from my perspective, certainly any time there’s financial aid available to students that wasn’t previously available, [it’s] always good for students,” he said.

Bright Futures covering all semesters could lead to increased summer enrollment, Wilder said, but there’s no way to know just yet.

William Spiers, director of financial aid at Tallahassee Community College, agreed.

As chair of the Florida Counsel of Student Financial Aid Advisors in 1997, Spiers was part of an advisory board that helped in the development of Bright Futures.

Originally, he said the scholarship did cover one summer for scholarship recipients. Though the move garnered positive feedback, it wasn’t fiscally sustainable at the time, he added.

Spiers said summer Bright Futures funding would likely lead to an increase summer enrollment and would make those required summer classes more affordable for students taking them.

To graduate on track with a four-year degree with a 120-credit requirement, students need to take 15 credits per semester, excluding summer.

Terry Wooding, an associate controller for UF’s University Bursar, said extending Bright Futures to summer would be beneficial to students who cannot take 15 credits a semester for various reasons.

“A student that cannot take 15 credits per semester because they can’t afford it or are working part time cannot necessarily make those credits up over summer,” she said.

“With Bright Futures covering summer, students that take less than 15 would be able to catch up with the credits they need.”

Bright Futures has been funded by Florida lottery revenues since it began in 1997.

For the 2015-16 school year, about $55.4 million was disbursed among nearly 24,000 UF students, according to UF records.

The funding amount for individual students depends on their high school test scores, GPA and community-service hours: Florida Academic Scholars receive $103 every semester per credit hour, Florida Medallion Scholars receive $77 and Gold Seal Scholars receive $48.

Students attending public Florida universities typically pay roughly $200 per credit hour. Any remaining costs Bright Futures doesn’t cover must be paid out-of-pocket or other available funding programs such as Florida Prepaid, private loans or grants.

Because there aren’t many summer grants, a Bright Futures summer scholarship would help the classes be more affordable for students and keep them on track for graduation, Spiers said.

“Summer coverage from Bright Futures would positively impact students that use up their need-based Pell Grants in fall and spring,” he said. “Not only would it make college more affordable, but it would impact completion rates and provide students with a more holistic view of their year.”

As for Knappins, he hasn’t faced any issues with Bright Futures since the summer of his freshman year. If the Bright Futures summer bill is passed, he noted, future students won’t have to go through his experience.

“I wish I would have known more details about Bright Futures two years ago,” Knappins said. “A summer Bright Futures scholarship would definitely be amazing.”

About Kayla Ziadie

Kayla Ziadie is a reporter for WUFT News. Follow her on Twitter, @KaylaZiadie.

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