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Sunday, February 25, 2024

For many students in Georgia, hoping for a tuition-free college experience will leave them empty-handed.

The Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally scholarship program, after which Bright Futures was modeled in 1997, recently raised its academic standards to limit acceptance and save the program from a projected deficit, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Before the change, Georgia high schools could calculate students' averages on their own systems. Now, the Georgia Student Finance Commission determines grade point averages on a uniform 4.0 scale.

According to the Journal-Constitution, students must earn a 3.0 GPA instead of just a B average to qualify for HOPE.

The scholarship, which is funded by the Georgia lottery, provides full tuition and ,300 for books each year to students at public universities in Georgia who make the grade, according to the HOPE Web site.

According to the Journal-Constitution, about 18,000 fewer high school seniors qualified this year than the last few years.

Lottery funds have soared since the changes have been implemented, which has caused many parents to question the new standards, according to the Journal-Constitution.

"I don't trust the legislators," said Josh Weiss, a senior at the University of Georgia and HOPE recipient. "They just don't want to pay for it."

Despite lottery revenues, Georgia high school students must brace themselves for the tougher standards.

For now, Florida students can only wait and see if Bright Futures will follow in the footsteps of the HOPE scholarship program.

But Florida lawmakers and university administrators have been butting heads for months about raising tuition, which has put a question mark over the state's largest scholarship.

The lottery-funded program awards hundreds of millions of dollars to Florida's in-state students each year.

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UF President Bernie Machen said that for almost four years he's talked about tweaking the program to bring more revenue to universities, but the Florida Legislature isn't interested.

Other Florida universities and community colleges would resist any efforts to increase academic requirements, he added.

Machen said increasing the standards of the program wouldn't affect UF much because of the caliber of students who apply, Machen said.

Ninety-six percent of this year's freshman class at UF received Bright Futures, said UF Provost Janie Fouke in an interview Aug. 16.

Fouke also said raising tuition would be difficult and unpopular with students since Bright Futures can only pay for so much.

"It has characteristics that are a little risky," she said. "I'm very aware that the way we operate Bright Futures is crippling us."

Fouke suggested limiting Bright Futures to need-based applicants or increasing the requirements to receive the scholarship as possible solutions.

She said even without financial aid, Florida's universities are extremely cheap in comparison to similar colleges around the nation.

UF ranked as having the lowest in-state tuition on USA Today's 2006 College and Tuition Fees Survey.

"My biggest hope is that the University of Florida would have enough income to provide the education you deserve," she said. "I don't care how we get there."

For some students, Bright Futures is their only chance at a college education, even with extremely cheap tuition.

"It was my reason for coming here," said Kola Akinduro, a UF sophomore who has 100 percent of his tuition covered by Bright Futures.

Akinduro said he was originally interested in the University of Miami, but the school only awarded him 50 percent of tuition in scholarship money, and free tuition at UF was impossible to turn down.

Though he's already snagged the scholarship, he worries about a less-than-bright future of the program because his 3-year-old sister, Titi, will someday face the same financial challenges.

Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida, said students shouldn't worry just yet.

MacManus said changing Bright Futures would be problematic.

Tuition in Florida is inexpensive, and university officials are trying to increase it, she said. There's also no guarantee that Bright Futures would cover a tuition hike.

MacManus said the program probably wouldn't be modified until there was an economic downturn.

Changes wouldn't be easy for the Florida Legislature, she said because the program has so much public support.

"I don't have a crystal ball and can't say what they'll do, but they'll have to do something," MacManus said. "It's an issue that's always alive."

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