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Senate bill aims to make college tuition more affordable in Florida

Posted at 8:26 PM, Jan 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-08 23:51:19-05

The cost of going to college seems to always go up but lawmakers here in Florida hope to reverse that trend in 2018.

In Florida, attending a college or university in the state is cheaper compared to national numbers.

According to College Board, in-state students at Florida universities will pay an average of $6,091 in tuition and fees for 30 credit hours this academic year, which is nearly 40 percent below the national average of $9,970 for four-year public schools.

For state colleges, full-time students will pay an average of $3,205 in tuition and fees, which is 10 percent below the national average of $3,570, according to College Board.

Even Palm Beach State College hasn't increased tuition in six years. Based on 2015-2016 school year data on the U.S. Department of Education database, PBSC has the lowest tuition in Florida and the 16th lowest in the nation among four-year public schools.

On Tuesday, the Florida legislature is set to convene for its 2018 session and lawmakers are hoping to further ease the financial burden for students all across the state by expanding access and coverage within the Bright Futures Scholarship and other grant programs.

Palm Beach State College freshman Ronald Michel is one of the 94,000 Bright Futures scholars in Florida right now.

"My first semester, it basically covered most of my school. It made me be able to come here, take more classes, get my Associate's faster. So it's working out pretty well for me," he said.

That's why Senate President Joe Negron is spearheading Senate Bill 4, filled with several proposals to help students like Michel, who are concerned about the costs of college.

"It can be difficult, especially for underprivileged kids, who don't really have that much to get themselves into college," said Michel.

Here's a breakdown of some of the proposals and provisions in SB 4:

  • Make permanent a decision to cover 100 percent of tuition and fees for the top-performing Bright Futures students, or "Academic Scholars"
  • Include $300 for books for spring/fall semesters for academic scholars
  • Allow academic scholars to use scholarships over the summer semester
  • Authorize programs recognizing high-performing graduate schools and efforts to hire top-level faculty and researchers at state universities
  • Hold universities to a four-year graduation standard in performance funding
  • Create a full ride scholarship for farm worker families

Another provision in the bill wold double the state's match for students in the “First Generation” grant program, which helps students like freshman Luis Lago at PBSC. Both of his parents have not earned college degrees and he would be the first in his family to graduate from college.

"I only have three years here in the United States so my family, we are working so hard," he said. "I really wanna be the first member of the family to really get that opportunity."

Michel says with school already expensive enough as it is these changes could help more students seize more opportunities.

"It's good that they're making it accessible now. Honestly, you just have to work hard, work your butt off to get the good grades and you'll succeed," he said.

The Florida 2018 legislative session begins on Jan. 9. Senator Negron told the News Service of Florida in an interview that he’s optimistic the proposals will pass.