For the first time in 17 years, top-performing students will be able to use their Bright Futures scholarships to attend summer classes at state universities and colleges.
The state Department of Education sent out a memorandum this week to financial-aid offices at the schools outlining how the merit-based scholarships can be used in summer semesters this year.
Under a new law and the current state budget, the summer scholarships will be limited to 44,456 students who qualify as “academic scholars,” the highest achievement level in the Bright Futures program. The scholarships pay full tuition and fees for the qualifying students.
In the memorandum, Levis Hughes, head of the Department of Education’s Office of Student Financial Assistance, said in addition to students already enrolled in universities and colleges, the summer scholarships can also be used by new high-school graduates if they have qualified for the award.
“OSFA (the Office of Student Financial Assistance) will be notifying all 2018 high school graduates eligible for (awards) about the availability of funding for the 2018 summer,” Hughes wrote. “Students will be informed that funding is only available if their postsecondary institution allows them to enroll as a degree-seeking student during the summer.”
This will mark the first use of Bright Futures scholarships for summer classes since 2001. The scholarship program, which began in 1997, is primarily funded by proceeds from the Florida Lottery.
The summer scholarships are part of an expansion of the Bright Futures program that was made permanent by legislation (SB 4) passed during the 2018 legislative session and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in early March.
Under the law and the 2018-2019 state budget, the summer scholarships will be expanded to 46,521 students who qualify as “medallion scholars” in the Bright Futures program in the summer of 2019, meaning a total of more than 90,000 Bright Futures students will have the option of using the scholarships for summer classes next year.
The new law also makes permanent the expansion of the “academic scholars” awards to cover 100 percent of tuition and fees, while also giving those students a $300 stipend for books and other costs in the fall and spring semesters.
The law increases the scholarship amount to cover 75 percent of tuition and fees for the “medallion scholars” beginning in the fall.
About 82 percent of Bright Futures students attend state universities, another 9 percent are enrolled in the state college system and the remaining scholarship students attend private institutions.
In funding the expansion of the Bright Futures program, lawmakers brought the overall total to $520 million, a record level.
The higher-education initiative, which was led by Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, also expanded need-based aid, including $270 million in funding in the next academic year for the Florida “student assistance grant” program. That represents more than an 82 percent increase in funding since 2016-2017 and will provide financial aid to an estimated 237,000 students beginning in the fall.