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Bush wants more college aid

A statewide drop in black freshman enrollment prompts a $52.4-million plan for need-based aid and scholarships.

Compiled from staff and wire reports
Published January 12, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - Four months after educators acknowledged a decline in the number of black freshmen entering Florida universities, Gov. Jeb Bush is calling for a sharp increase in scholarships and need-based financial aid.

The governor said Wednesday he wants state lawmakers to spend an additional $52.4-million in 2006-07 to help low-income and minority students pay for higher education. The largest chunk, $35.8-million, would be for those faced with the most severe financial barriers.

If approved, Bush's plan would mark a shift from years past, when most new financial aid money has gone to merit-based scholarship programs such as Bright Futures. Studies have shown those programs tend to help affluent students more.

Bush said his plan could provide an average of $1,152 in financial assistance to nearly 117,000 students.

Legislative Democrats weren't impressed, claiming their efforts to achieve similar improvements in recent years were rejected by the Republican-dominated Legislature.

"Don't ply us with token dollars when double-digit tuition hikes are making it harder and harder for lower income kids and their families to afford higher education," said Senate Minority Leader Les Miller, D-Tampa.

With dozens of students from historically black Florida A&M University on hand for Wednesday's announcement, Bush said more minority students are attending Florida universities now than when he came into office. But he acknowledged he received "a wakeup call" when African-American enrollment dropped in the fall.

The falloff was largely due to an enrollment decline at FAMU, which has had financial problems in recent years, and a 14 percent drop in black freshmen from out of state.

The number of in-state black freshmen actually rose slightly.

Florida educators attribute the out-of-state decline to sharp tuition increases in recent years. In 2000, the average credit-per-hour fee for nonresident students in Florida's universities was $323.39.

This year, the per-hour fee for nonresident students is $530.18, a 64 percent increase.

Bush is recommending several changes that could help, including an additional $6.5-million to provide scholarships for students who are the first in their families to attend college. That idea was first proposed by University of Florida president Bernie Machen, who leads one of the few Florida schools to see an increase in its number of black freshmen.

Bush also is recommending $1.1-million more in funding for need-based financial aid at Florida's four historically black colleges and universities, including FAMU.

"Need-based funding is absolutely critical to attracting the underrepresented to the state colleges and universities in Florida," said Al Lawson, a Senate Democrat and FAMU alumnus who said he will shepherd the measure.

[Last modified January 12, 2006, 01:20:12]

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