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Thursday, May 23, 2024

UF officials said they are studying the proposed changes to the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program and have not yet decided whether they would support them.

But some UF students said the plan is unfair.

Intending to benefit the economy, Florida Sen. Jeremy Ring suggested changing the basis for Bright Futures financial awards to favor some fields of study.

If Ring's bill passes, students studying science, technology, mathematics, education, engineering, nursing or pre-health would be given about 10 percent more tuition coverage from Bright Futures.

Award amounts for students majoring in other areas would be decreased by about 20 percent.

If approved by the state Legislature and Gov. Charlie Crist, Ring's bill would go into effect July 1. The Legislature's next session begins in March.

Ring said in addition to educating students, universities should serve to develop the economy - a role he said they haven't embraced enough. Having students major in the fields he specified is essential to fill spots in high-need industries, he said.

UF spokesman Steve Orlando said UF President Bernie Machen is aware of the program but isn't ready to comment on it yet. He is still looking into the proposals before taking a stance, Orlando said.

Ring said most university administrators he's talked to support the bill, but he hasn't heard any feedback from students.

"Initially they may be taken aback," he said. "But when they understand it's not an attempt to rip the state of Bright Futures but to build a better economy, I think they'll be supportive of it."

Tyler Welt, a UF freshman who's planning to study political science, said he'd figure out a way around the new rules if they were approved.

"What I would probably do in that situation is switch my major to get the money and then switch back," Welt said. "You've got to play the system."

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He said changing the scholarship is a flawed plan.

"I wouldn't say any field is more important than any others," Welt said. "They shouldn't be penalized."

But Welt and other students already in college wouldn't need to beat the system.

Ring said if the bill is approved, only students enrolled after its effective date would be impacted. He said he hasn't figured out how to deal with incoming students with undeclared majors or those who change majors.

Ring said despite the changes, Florida schools would still offer the best deals for education in the country.

"No one is getting rid of Bright Futures," Ring said. "If you want to be a philosophy major you still get 80 percent of tuition paid. That's still a pretty good deal."

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