Florida’s popular college scholarship program will undergo a big shift under a new measure signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
High school students will no longer be required to log volunteer work hours in order to qualify for a Bright Futures scholarship, but instead can substitute paid work to meet the requirement for the merit-based scholarship. DeSantis lauded the change at a late-morning press conference held on the Ybor City campus of Hillsborough Community College as a way to expand opportunities for those who may need to work while in high school.
The legislation (HB 461) was sponsored by Republican Rep. Lauren Melo. Senate President Wilton Simpson called the change a product of a “blue-collar” Legislature.
Bright Futures scholarships — which pick up either 75% or 100% of the cost of college — have traditionally required volunteer hours before graduating. Moreover, students are also required to identify an issue or professional area of interest, develop a plan to address the topic and reflect and report on the experiences.
About 120,000 students statewide go to college on Bright Futures scholarships.
Students who will use work hours to meet the volunteer requirements will have to obtain approval from the district’s School Board or, in instances of private schools, administrative boards. Home-schooled children who want to use work hours to meet the volunteer requirements are required to get permission from the Department of Education.
There are no income qualifications for Bright Futures scholarships. Students earn scholarships based on their grade point averages and their standardized test performances. To be eligible for Bright Futures, students must attain certain grade point averages.
Academic Scholars is the top-level scholarship, covering 100% of tuition and fees at a state college or university. To qualify, students must maintain a 3.5 grade-point average (GPA); have an ACT score of 29 or an SAT score of 1330; and bank 100 hours of volunteer work.
The second-tier Florida Medallion Scholars program requires 75 service hours, as well as a GPA of 3.0 and an ACT score of 25 or SAT score of 1210.
The trade-school-oriented Florida Gold Seal Career and Professional Education Scholarship also has a volunteer requirement of 30 hours, in addition to five credit hours worth of industry certification classes.
The new law does not alter the academic requirements. It only allows work hours to be substituted for volunteer work.
While DeSantis said volunteering is laudable, the Governor noted not every high school student can afford to not be paid.
“Not every student has the luxury of being able to just do volunteer hours,” DeSantis. “We have students who come from lower-income families who need to work to be able to support their families. They should not be denied the opportunity to qualify for a scholarship just because their socioeconomic background makes it more difficult to be able to do this type of volunteer work.”
Evan Power, Chairman of Chairs for the Republican Party of Florida, added, “Once again Gov. DeSantis is delivering for Florida’s working families. Giving young adults the opportunity to an affordable college education will benefit their families and Florida for generations to come.”