Florida may soon be adding to its list of scholarship programs. Rep. Shevrin Jones (D- Broward) is sponsoring a bill that would help low-income students pay any remaining tuition their other scholarships and grants don't cover.
To qualify for the Sunshine Scholarship Program, students would have to apply for FAFSA, be a full-time student at a community college or technical school, and have a household income of $50,000 or less.
The program would bridge the gap between a student’s financial aid and tuition, by paying any remaining costs after their grants have been processed.
Once a student’s education is completed, the proposed legislation would require the student to live and work in Florida for the same length of time they received funding through the scholarship.
The program targets those who are interested in pursuing an associate’s degree or trade. Jones says it is important to recognize attending 4-year institution isn't the best choice for all students. He says this scholarship helps give them options.
“More students in Florida enrolled at college to retool and retrain during the economic downturn. Looking to open doors of opportunities, break the cycle of generational poverty and we want to keep those doors open for them and pump quality members of society into the workforce while decreasing student debt,” said Jones.
The program has been in the works for nearly two years, having first been proposed in 2018. Since that time, the average student loan debt in Florida jumped by 8.5 %. With student debt on the rise, Sen. Janet Cruz (D- Hillsborough) says it is important to keep students from taking out excessive student loans.
“The face of the student debt crisis is often assumed to be an upper middle class student who attended a private school got a degree in humanities or philosophy and couldn’t get a job after that, but that is so often not the case,” Cruz said.
Jones is hoping HB 55 will decrease student debt and increase student retention rates, by helping students like a young woman in his district, who faced dropping out after initially struggling to pay her tuition.
“All her loans had cleared and everything had paid, but she owed a certain amount and the amount she just did not have the money to pay for it," Joes said. "So she had to get help from the school, where they have just a small foundation to help individuals like that. This scholarship is for individuals like her, for her who works two jobs.”
According to the Florida Department of Education in the 2018-2019 school year, the average retention rate was 65%. In order to avoid dropping out, many students turn to loans adding to student debt. Student debt in the U.S. hit a record $1.56 trillion dollars with borrowers in Florida making up $90.8 billion of the total according to federal student loan data.