Read a Florida student's personal experience with a new Senate Bill.
by Sarah Hoffman
This past legislative session was overwhelming. Everything from the anti-sex education bills and anti-trans sports ban to the attempts to ban 20-week and fetal diagnosis abortions, and a bill to stop Bright Futures Scholarships for most Florida students.
As a Florida student studying political science and journalism, the Florida legislator put my scholarship at risk. This bill is currently in the Florida House. A majority of students majoring in any liberal arts or humanities could have had their scholarships revoked by 2023 if this bill passes.
Senate Bill 86 filed by Senator Deis Baxley and would limit Bright Futures recipients' financial aid based on their major. For the scholarship program to cover all 120 credit hours, a student must apply to a major that will “lead directly to employment.”
While they have agreed to fund Bright Futures in 2022, they plan to eliminate a $600 annual textbook stipend for scholarship winners--a reduction of $37.5 million in higher education spending.
My personal experience
As a college student myself, my interests are constantly changing. I realized early on in my college career, as I was studying wildlife ecology to become a wildlife veterinarian, that while my passion for animals was strong, it was not strong enough. That and taking Biology 2 almost destroyed my GPA.
I found my dedication to politics and journalism fueling my college career. However, my funding that allowed me to pursue my major was put into jeopardy because it may not lead to immediate employment.
But, I can tell you one thing. I have been able to gain more experience (paid experience) in the field that pertains to my current major, more than I did when I was majoring in wildlife ecology. Now, this is only my experience in particular that I can “speak” to, however, forcing a college student to pursue a major they are not interested in simply to receive funding is unethical.
Details on the bill
Many students stay in Florida for undergraduate degrees, so they can pursue graduate school with less student debt if they decide to do so. Often, funding from this program translates into credit hours in college from school, if students have taken AP, International Baccalaureate, or dual enrollment courses. However, this bill would reduce the number of credit hours freshman college students can receive funding for, meaning that the more AP classes a student takes, the less funding they receive.
Personally, when I received my AA, a majority of my credit requirements were nearly covered from the classes I took in high school. Why should a student take a college-level course in college if they can take it in high school?
The Florida legislature even proposed an additional bill to allow out-of-state students with grandparents in Florida to be afforded in-state tuition. Yet, why is it that Florida students would lose their own funding?
This bill is largely targeting the humanities and liberal arts. This is because the bill wants to fund majors that lead to direct employment. However, the purpose of liberal arts and humanities is to develop a better understanding of society and circumstances within our environment. While they do not always lead to direct employment, they can also be prerequisites for graduate school. For instance, pre-law students who study political science could have their funding jeopardized for going into a major that would essentially provide them with immediate employment.
These majors also allow people to develop character and empathy, preparing us for various situations we may face in life. This classist system would put majors within STEM, including the sciences and engineering, as more “desired” for funding, while I will put majors like sociology and political science at the bottom. Basically, majors that would stereotypically generate the most income would become prioritized.
STEM should not be prioritized
While the bill includes a measure that would publish online dashboards featuring data on post-graduation median salaries and student loan debts in various fields of study, this could end up doing more harm to students pursuing a field in STEM. While people studying in one of these fields earn more than their peers in their 20s, in certain applied fields like computer science and engineering, their earning could eventually taper off. As their wage growth flattens, students who majored in the humanities or liberal arts catch up financially. The difference? While much may major in STEM programs for passion, many major in it for financial reasons as well.
Those who major in political science or history may risk the uncertainty of finding a secure job, but catch up further along in their career. STEM majors also do not pursue additional education after school to keep up with the rapidly changing industry--anything from transforming jobs to new talented students fresh out of college. The industry is competitive, and workers must continue their education and continue building their skills.
Florida's politicians are clearly looking at this the wrong way, and if they truly care about generating income for a stable economy, this solution is not the right one. What they are doing is setting students up with a false promise that majoring in a “dependable” career will provide them with stability, while those who majored in less financially desirable programs are the ones generating more income further along their career paths.
Either way, regardless of what you are in, the state should not determine whether it is considered worthy of funding. Pursuing a higher education can be stressful, and the last thing Florida needs to do to us is take away our funding for our futures. I am delighted with my major right now, and Bright Futures has helped me realize my potential in college.