Bill would reduce Bright Futures for degrees with low job prospects

Bill passes its 1st Senate committee

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – How much money a student receives from their Bright Futures scholarship may depend on what major they pick if a bill passed Tuesday by its first Senate committee becomes law.

The bill sponsor argues the goal is to ensure students have the best chance of getting a job after graduation.

Nearly 3 million Florida students have helped pay for college with a Bright Futures scholarship.

But state Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, worries some degrees aren’t resulting in jobs.

“It’s not a bright future when you are there with a degree and a pile of debt of money you borrowed to get through college. You bought the promise that your life would be better if you went, but you can’t get a job,” said Baxley.

He’s sponsoring the bill that aims to ensure Florida students are getting the best return on the state’s investment -- $6.8 billion since the program’s inception.

It would establish a list of programs that aren’t likely to result in employment and reduce funding for scholarship recipients who pursue those degrees.

He said the goal is to better link college educations to future economic prosperity.

“And I’m really trying to look for the longer good of bringing these two worlds closer together,” said Baxley.

An online petition against the bill has received more than 100,000 signatures.

Democrats like state Sen. Tina Polsky, of Boca Raton, disagree with the state picking winners and losers.

“This bill is the opposite of freedom. It is dictating our choices when it comes to majors, parents’ choices, students’ choices,” said Polsky.

Baxley said it’s his hope the state won’t identify any programs that wouldn’t be eligible for full Bright Futures funding. Instead, he hopes ending up on the list would encourage universities to better tailor their programs’ curriculums to include skills that make a graduate more likely to get hired.

“I think almost all programs could have some ingredients that would allow you to do some type of work when you leave the college,” said Baxley.

If passed, the legislation wouldn’t affect current scholarship recipients.

The bill also would remove scholarship award amounts from state statute.

Starting as early as this year, lawmakers would set award amounts on an annual basis.