The cost of college just went up by an unexpected $1,500 for some of Florida's top students.
Recipients of the highly competitive, merit-based Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship have received letters from the state this month saying the federal government is no longer funding the awards. About 1,400 students in Florida and 28,000 nationwide received the $1,500-per-year renewable scholarship during the 2009-10 year, the most recent figure available.
"I just found out a week-and-a-half ago. I don't know how I'm going to make up the difference," said Tosca Lichtenheld, 19, of Miami, who recently completed her freshman year at the University of Chicago. "They told us so late in the year, and most of the deadlines for other scholarships have already passed."
Lichtenheld said she plans to write members of Congress to protest the cuts. She's also formed a Facebook group with some Byrd scholarship recipients from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill called "Bring Back the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program."
The scholarship, named for the late U.S. senator, was cut because it duplicates other programs that provide college assistance to students, according to a budget analysis from the Education Department. Other grant, work-study and loan assistance programs are available to students, the analysis said.
"In addition, by targeting students who are already likely to attend and succeed in college, and by awarding relatively small amounts, the Byrd Honors Scholarship program does not effectively improve college access or completion," the analysis said.
Federal officials say the difficult financial year also played a role.
"There was a pretty drastic budget reduction, so lots of cuts were made by Congress," said Jane Glickman, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education.
Although it was a federal award, it was administered by the Florida Department of Education. Students were nominated by their high school principal or school official, based on factors such as grades, test scores, leadership and community service. Not more than one student per high school could receive the award each year.
The University of Florida had the most scholarship recipients from the state, with 390, followed by the University of Central Florida with 77 and the University of Miami with 70. Breakdowns by county were not available. Harvard University had 42 Byrd recipients from Florida, the most of any out-of-state school.
For students attending colleges and universities in the state, it's the second big cut to merit-based aid. The Legislature reduced the value of Bright Futures scholarships by nearly 20 percent this year. The award for top students fell from $3,750 to $3,030, because of state budget cuts.
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