Local college students facing financial struggles

Bright Futures cuts leave many cash-strapped

skennedy@bradenton.comAugust 28, 2009 

MANATEE — Bright Futures scholar Bradley Smith registered for classes at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, but said Thursday the college booted him because he could not afford to pay $356 in additional costs.

Smith, 21, of Bradenton, who had signed up for two classes, blamed cuts to the popular academic scholarship program that legislators imposed this year. Recipients this year are required to pay more of the cost of tuition and fees at universities and community colleges they attend.

“I don’t have the money,” said Smith, a Bayshore High School graduate.

He had recently lost his job, gave up his apartment and moved in with his dad, whom he did not feel would be able to help him financially.

Smith was scrambling to put together enough cash before a Saturday deadline to stay in college, he said.

Another SCF Bright Futures recipient, Blake Sullivan, 19, of Bradenton, was surprised to find he had been dropped from all his classes because of an unpaid balance of about $100. He was able to borrow the money from his parents, he said, and has since been able to re-register.

“We all figured Bright Futures would pay for everything,” he said.

And while students at New College and at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee reported financial aid arrangements had paid for increases in tuition and fees, some still were struggling with loans and other expenses, they said.

SCF could not confirm or deny any of Smith’s or Sullivan’s contentions because of privacy laws, although spokeswoman Kathy Walker questioned whether the amount at issue in a hypothetical case like Smith’s would be correct.

SCF has been warning students since early July about changes to the Bright Futures scholarships, urging them to check their financial aid status, she said.

“There were many efforts made, and in a variety of ways, to let students know it was different,” she said. “We wanted to make sure everyone had time to make the necessary preparations. The vast majority paid their bills and are not calling reporters and complaining.”

New College student Jordan Royal, 18, of Jacksonville, said she had earned a Bright Futures scholarship, and had a prepaid tuition plan. But with bills for room and board as well, she still ended up taking out a $1,500 loan.

“It’s a hardship we didn’t think we’d have to face,” she said. “I thought I was covered, but they had to cut, so it’s coming back on the students.”

Charles Carter, 21, of Bradenton, attended what was then Manatee Community College (now SCF) on a Bright Futures scholarship that paid 100 percent of his tuition and fees. A stipend that came with it helped to pay for books, he said.

Now he’s a senior at USF, and although his tuition and fees have been fully paid through his financial aid and his Bright Futures scholarship, the stipend’s demise has hurt.

“It’s rough,” said Carter. “I got married in December, I am working as a youth director part-time, trying to pay our housing bills. Throwing books on top of that, it’s rough.”

He said last semester, his books cost $600, but a $120 stipend dropped his share to $480.

This semester, he’s already spent $800 on books, and will not get any help from a stipend, he said. His dilemma drew a comment from a table mate at the campus cafe, who said, “I just don’t buy books anymore,” explaining he borrows them from other students or tries to get by on notes.

Asked if his parents would be able to help him, Carter replied, “If we needed it, we could ask, but we try not to.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908 or at skennedy@bradenton.com.

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