By Nathalie Del Valle
A college degree is, more than ever before, the key to a brighter future.
“You can’t just have a high school degree anymore,” said Brianna Thompson, a senior in the culinary strand of the Entrepreneurship Academy who will attend Jonson and Wales University this fall.
She is right. The U.S. Department of Labor statistics reports that the number of jobs filled by college graduates continues to grow.
The cost of earning a college degree also continues to climb.
“When you think about the cost of education, when you think about what it costs to you if you live on campus or the years you’re giving up higher pay after earning your degree, every year it takes to get a degree costs you money and slows down your opportunity to get better,” Governor Rick Scott said at a January press conference.
Students who truly want to make it to college, despite economic disadvantage, must work hard, not just maintaining a competitive grade point average and earning the best test scores, they must qualify for scholarships and financial aid that will allow them to finance their college dreams.
“I was eligible to receive the Bright Futures scholarship and I received a full ride to FIU,” said Julian Sanchez, a senior in IT. He received a 1440 in his SAT exam which also earned him a National Hispanic Merit Scholarship.
Julian worked hard and knows how fortunate he is not to have to worry about tuition. But for some, the test scores have left the scholarship out of reach.
As the demand for college degree rises, so does the need to pay for it. The number of students receiving the Bright Futures scholarship peeked in the 2010-2011 school year, facing bankruptcy, legislators voted to raise the requirements for the awards. By 2014, the minimum SAT score for the middle of the three Bright Futures scholarships rose from 970 to 1170 and the top award now requires a score of 1290.
Since then, the number of recipients has decreased. By the 2015-2016 school year, the number of students getting the scholarships dropped to just under 111,000 and the scholarship no longer covered 100% of state tuition, even for the highest scoring students.
Florida Legislators have passed a bill to increase funding to the scholarship program, restoring full funding for the Bright Futures scholarship and expanding it to cover the summer term would affect about 45,000 academic recipients for the 2017-18 school year.
“These bills are key components of a comprehensive higher education agenda that will boost the strength and competitiveness of our state’s higher education system as our primary economic engine to drive vibrant, sustainable economic development and growth in high-paying jobs,” Joe Negron, Senate President, said in a statement.
He believes that increasing funding will keep more talented young students in Florida and that those students will choose to stay here after they graduate, boosting the economy.
But, the criteria to receive the scholarship money won’t change, which is something that the Democrats do not agree with. They want to see more money spent on programs to help students and families that struggle to pay for college.
Since Bright Futures is merit-based, financial need is not a criterion.
“I find it frustrating that we would talk about giving $3,000 scholarships to students whose parents make well over seven figures a year and not focus on giving those dollars to those in need,” Senator Jeff Clemens said in a statement.
Seniors don’t have the time to wait for Tallahassee to hash out their differences. They have plans and decisions to make, which means searching for scholarship money.
“There are mirco-scholarships you can get like in raise.me and there is also FAFSA,” said Sanchez, referring to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and raise.me, a website that allows students to earn micro-scholarships from colleges.
Because although the cost of attending college continues to rise, students find that they just cannot afford not to attend.
“My mom always told me that I was going to be the first in my family to go to college,” said Thompson, who never wavered on her determination to earn a degree. “I want to perfect my craft, and I am excited to pursue a career I’m passionate about.”