For years, the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program has been a consistent goal for thousands of Florida students. The scholarship promises a tuition-free ride to a Florida college of the student’s acceptance and choice. The criteria are not easily met but with Florida’s abundance of prodigious schools, it presents a worthwhile opportunity for students of all backgrounds and economic classes.
At CCHS, Advanced Placement (AP) and Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) Cambridge courses—along with opportunities for service hours and graduation cords—incentivize the pursuit of this scholarship heartily. However, a new bill puts this scholarship in jeopardy.
Florida Senate Bill 86 (SB 86), entitled Student Financial Aid, proposes creating an annually updated list of majors believed to most often result in immediate post-college employment. Students pursuing careers from the list would receive Bright Futures. The students who plan to pursue majors other than those selected would only receive half of the benefits for fulfilling the same requirements. The bill was proposed by Republican Senator Dennis Baxley who believes that this bill will encourage the pursuit of degrees that are believed to be more valuable within the modern workforce.
Despite this, the bill as proposed could end up doing more harm than good to Florida students. The bill wouldn’t go into effect until the beginning of July, meaning every graduating class beginning with the current high school juniors in the Class of 2022, would be directly affected. Senator Baxley claims this delay would allow students time to change their plans in accordance with the goals of the bill, but that hardly seems accurate.
Juniors have already completed nearly three years of their high school careers and many are in pursuit of their Bright Futures requirements. The college admissions process is typically done within the first quarter of senior year which means juniors are already expected to be planning their decisions for the future and this bill may halt the progress of many with little time to change plans.
The same can be said, yet to a slightly lesser degree, for current sophomores and freshmen who have already begun selecting next year’s courses with programs such as AP and AICE providing a clear path toward Bright Futures progress. Beyond that, this bill threatens to affect the decision-making of every future Florida high-schooler.
Beyond that, this bill threatens to affect the decision making of every future Florida high-schooler.
With continued advancements in technology and automation within society, the workforce is leaning towards a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) oriented direction. It seems practical for students to lean in this direction, as is already being done. As early as elementary school, STEM has been adapted into the curriculum and students of all backgrounds are being encouraged to pursue courses in the field.
Of course, many students are interested in these fields and many rigorous high school courses belong to this STEM push. But instead of further encouraging these students, SB 86 would instead punish those who are not pursuing these fields.
Currently, exploring a variety of fields is encouraged in high school. For example, the AICE diploma, recently adopted at CCHS, requires students to take seven AICE courses with at least one course having to come from each of four categories. This system seems to persuade students to learn material from every field not only to round out their education but also to assist them in the process of choosing a field of study and employment suited to their skills and interests.
By financially punishing students for selecting paths outside of those chosen by senators, such as Dennis Baxley who completed his college career before Bright Futures was even offered in Florida, students’ educational freedom will be at severe risk of being limited.
Additionally, the economic impact of the bill will naturally affect students from underprivileged backgrounds the most. College is more expensive than ever before and the student debt crisis has become a major political talking point. Bright Futures provides an opportunity for lower-class students to strive for a higher education that their economic background may not otherwise afford them. But under the bill, in order to receive the benefits available to them now, they would be forced to follow an education path they might not otherwise wish to.
Due to these concerns, the bill has faced mounting opposition in recent days and its likelihood of passing has decreased. It remains to be seen, however, if this bill will influence similar legislation in other states.
Bills such as this could end up causing an effect adverse to its intentions.
Bills such as this could end up causing an effect adverse to its intentions. By rapidly enhancing the number of students pursuing a career in STEM, the STEM-based workforce will become more competitive than it already is. Meanwhile, students with the economic freedom to pursue any field they wish will occupy the limited employment positions within the humanities and other disciplines outside of STEM, creating a clear and omnipresent class distinction within the workforce.
School resources, such as those offered in guidance at CCHS, are in place to advise students of the advantages and disadvantages of different fields of study and career paths to assist in their future decisions. But the decision ultimately lies with the individual student. Legislation such as SB 86 risks putting a stranglehold on that choice by not only discouraging educational freedom but also defining the decisions students make about their own futures, bright as they could otherwise be.
Illustration by Sofie Kahlig