One of the first major pieces of legislation is moving forward—an effort to expand both merit and need-based financial aid programs and revamp the way students pay tuition at universities. The measure has bipartisan support despite concerns about part of the plan pushing the schools to get kids out within four years.
The plan, Senate Bill 4, is a priority of Senate President Joe Negron. A response to a university tour two years ago where he encountered students like Florida A&M University Environmental science student DeMarcus Robinson:
“So my story is I probably won’t be able to come back next semester being that I have a balance this semester, and I don’t know how to pay for next year,” he told the group. “So I’ve thought about going back home—I really don’t want to go back home. I really love being at FAMU—a lot," he said at the time.
Affordability is an issue for students. Not all have the state’s Bright Futures Merit Scholarship, which would see an increase in funding to cover 100 percent of costs for college students who qualify for the highest level. A few years ago, the state increased requirements for students to get it. Fewer minority students have qualified in recent years, but Galvano says increases in need based aid make up for it:
“This bill doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If you look at our budget last year, while merit based aid increased at historic levels, need-based aid increased by almost 890 percent. We’re capturing every component…we also have the first generation match, the farm workers…and its going to go very well with our budget going forward.”
But what continues to be of worry is a plan use four-year graduation rates as part of a system that determines how much funding the state’s public universities receive. The federal government uses a six-year-rate, and many university programs take at least five years. Furthermore, while some schools like the University of Florida have nearly 70 percent of their students graduating within four years, others, like Florida A&M University, have less than 20-percent. The reason, Galvano, says is affordability.
"The impact on students and families as we’ve now been able to quantify is close to $22,000 to $23,000 a year for every year a student is spending time, another year in the system.”
Institutions would have to consider block-tuition, a flat-tuition rate per-semester instead of billing students class-by-class. But that’s tricky. While students who take more classes could see a savings, those who take fewer could end up paying more.
“It helps the economy, they graduate on time, incur less debt," said Sen. Dorothy Hukill, speaking in favor of the measure during Thursday's Senate floor vote, "and then they will get into the work force as productive citizens of the state of Florida, making an income earning a salary and doing what they love to do.”
Last year, Negron’s proposal failed, as it was linked to a controversial plan that also made changes to the state’s community colleges. This year, the bill stands on its own and has even gotten an endorsement from House Speaker Richard Corcoran.