JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s a program many Sunshine State students attribute their college education to.
"I mean, if I didn't have Bright Futures I may not have been able to go to school,” said UCF graduate Camille Thomas.
"I would have paid tuition and then had no money to even eat with,” said Bright Futures recipient Leah Copeland.
Copeland and her two friends, Camille Thomas and Samuel Coicou, are all recipients of the Bright Futures scholarship.
The program was created in 1997 by the Florida Legislature to reward students who completed the required high school coursework, met a minimum grade-point average, scored high enough on their standardized tests, and completed mandatory community service requirements. Once those are all met, to get the scholarship, all students must do is attend an eligible Florida post-secondary institution.
But that may soon change.
A bill filed Wednesday by Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, wants to make sure award recipients not only graduate, but stay and work here in Florida for at least six months for every semester they were paid.
“The program shall serve as an incentive to award recipients to remain and work in the state,” the bill reads.
If not, students will have to pay it all back.
“A student who receives an award, but who does not graduate or complete the program for which the award was received or who no longer resides in the state after graduation or program completion, must reimburse the state for the amount of the award received or a prorated portion thereof,” the bill says.
"It doesn't seem like a reward anymore. A scholarship is supposed to seem like a reward right? That is pretty much the definition of a loan,” said Coicou.
Kind of like that engineering job offer Copeland just landed in Michigan.
It’s a reward that, if this passes, would be awfully costly to accept.
"I would have to pay back like $8,000 or something ridiculous,” she said.
The bill does include some exceptions, including for Bright Futures recipients who go on active duty in the military. If the bill gets approved this session, the new requirements would take effect during the 2014-2015 academic year.