by Ian Aguilar, CFP®
Florida is a state lucky enough to benefit from the state-wide merit scholarship known as Bright Futures. Just recently, the state expanded the program, and now there are two main forms of the award known as the Florida Academic Scholarship (FAS) and Florida Medallion Scholarship (FMS). These awards are given out based upon achieving a certain GPA, SAT/ACT score, and varying levels of community service hours. The FAS covers 100% of tuition and fees at public universities, while the FMS covers 75% of tuition and fees. What does that equate to in terms of dollars towards college? There tends to be a misconception that if a child achieves some of these marks, college will be free as long as their child stays in the state of Florida. The truth is far from that. Here is a list of 4 things to think about before relying purely on Bright Futures to pay for college.
1. Bright Futures doesn’t even cover 1/3 of the cost of attendance at the University of Florida
When we look at the current tuition and fees for the University of Florida, the amount for 2019-2020 is $6,380. The FAS and FMS Bright Futures scholarships are granting us $27,920 and $21,540, respectively, for the four years of attendance*. The total cost of attendance for undergraduates published by UF is actually $21,210 for the 2019-2020 school year. That means, for someone who even receives the highest level of the Bright Futures scholarship, there still are costs of up to $14,830 in the student’s first year. Even with no increases in cost of attendance year to year (which is highly unlikely), you will end up having to pay at least $56,920 over all 4 years of college. Colleges understand this and have started to raise tuition at much smaller rates than other costs, in particular room & board. In 2013, in-state tuition for UF was $6,263, which means tuition has only increased 1.86% since then. In that same time frame the total cost of attendance has increased 11.03%. This is an overall good thing for affordability, but people who want to rely on Bright Futures for funding purposes must realize it is covering less and less of the total cost of attendance to the state’s public universities.
2. Money is given for in-state private universities, but at a specific rate
The Bright Futures scholarships are applicable for in-state private universities, but, instead of covering the whole cost of tuition and fees as it does for public universities, it only covers a certain dollar amount, dependent on the number of credit hours in which you are enrolled. For the equivalent of the Florida Academic Scholarship, private school attendees receive $211 per credit hour plus $300 for college-related expenses on a per semester basis. Unless you were enrolled in college recently, that doesn’t mean much, but generally you are required to have 120 credit hours to graduate with a 4 year undergraduate degree, which translates to 15 credit hours per semester. Doing the math based on 15 hours per semester, you receive $3,165 per semester plus a $300 stipend. Clearly, the amount provided via the Bright Futures scholarship doesn’t carry as much relief for its recipients at private institutions since tuitions are much higher and will only provide less relief as prices continue rising and the scholarship amounts don’t keep pace.
3. If you qualify for Bright Futures, you will probably qualify for other scholarships elsewhere
The Bright Futures scholarship is one of a whole list of scholarships that can benefit a family through limiting college expenses. The truth is, if you are qualifying for Bright Futures, you probably have the ability to garner funds at many of the different scholastic institutions throughout the country as well, and those scholarships will often go above and beyond paying for just tuition. Don’t limit your college search to in-state universities due to finances, because you could end up paying less by going out of state versus staying in state.
4. Bright Futures doesn’t normally apply to graduate school, but can
Many students who can obtain the scholarship often come into college with a semester’s worth of college credits, if not more. If the same students intend on attending graduate school at an in-state university, then they can also receive funding for one semester of graduate study, not to exceed 15 credit hours paid at the undergraduate rate. In essence, each student is eligible for at least $3,165 to go toward graduate school if you finish undergrad early enough. How beneficial Bright Futures will be for particular students will vary from situation to situation, and understanding your financial flexibility to explore all your schooling options is imperative in making sure you choose the right school. Let us help you solidify your college funding plan today so that you can get a good night’s sleep knowing a plan is in place, whether it’s with Bright Futures or without.
*This is an estimate using the current 1 year grant multiplied by 4, assuming completion at the end of 4 years.