Sen. Dennis Baxley filed a bill on Tuesday to revamp financial aid for college and other postsecondary education programs.
The Ocala Republican’s proposal (SB 86) would focus the state’s efforts on programs that lead directly to employment. The move is an attempt to stretch the use of taxpayer dollars and to maximize the value for students.
Florida wants its students to succeed in meaningful careers, Baxley said in a statement.
“As taxpayers we should all be concerned about subsidizing degrees that just lead to debt, instead of the jobs our students want and need,” Baxley said. “We encourage all students to pursue their passions, but when it comes to taxpayer subsidized education, there needs to be a link to our economy, and that is the goal of this legislation.”
The bill is the latest legislation filed with a two-digit bill number, implying it is a priority of Senate President Wilton Simpson. Simpson noted the bill rebalances aid programs to cover tuition costs and fees for general education requirements. Additionally, the legislation would also boost targeted programs Simpson said the state knows will lead to future jobs.
“All too often the debate surrounding higher education focuses on the cost to the student, in terms of tuition and fees, but never the cost to the taxpayer or the actual value to the student,” the Trilby Republican said in a statement. “The reality is a degree does not guarantee a job.”
Under the bill, the Board of Governors and the State Board of Education must approve by the end of each calendar year a list of career certificate, undergraduate and graduate degree programs that lead directly to employment, including those from private institutions.
Additionally, beginning in the 2022-23 academic year, the state would limit eligibility for state financial aid programs to 60 hours unless a student is enrolled in a program on the list of market-driven degree programs.
The bill would also create a new scholarship program for Pell Grant-eligible students in a certificate or associate degree program who still owe tuition and fees after receiving state and federal aid. That would be offered on a first-come, first-served basis and cover tuition and fees, plus a book stipend.
The bill would modify the Florida Academic and Florida Medallion Scholars awards to an amount lawmakers would determine in the state budget.
The bill would allow students with unused Bright Futures credit hours to apply those credits to an approved list of graduate studies programs.
Finally, the legislation would create the Florida Endeavor Scholarship for students enrolling in high school equivalency programs. The state would offer the scholarship on a first-come, first-served basis, but prioritize returning students. Students could qualify for the award if they earn 225 clock hours with a 2.5 GPA and use the award on tuition and fees.
Other bills filed for the 2021 Session target postsecondary education. A bill in the House (HB 281), filed by Reps. Wyman Duggan and Ardian Zika, includes a proposed scholarship for dual enrollment courses for public and private school students. Another bill (SB 52), filed by Sen. Ray Rodrigues, would allow private school students to participate in dual enrollment at public colleges and universities.