ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida's popular Bright Futures Scholarship program could be behind a controversial decision that has left the state as the only one in the country insisting students sit for ACT or SAT tests during the pandemic in order to apply for admission to public universities.
Ally Schneider, a member of the board that oversees Florida's 12 public universities, said Board of Governors staff have told her the state is reluctant to waive SAT/ACT requirement this year because students who want to qualify for the scholarships must still submit scores.
"It's so tied up in the fabric of Florida higher education that people are hesitant to not require test scores for admission when it's required for Bright Futures," said Schneider, also the student government president at the University of North Florida who stressed she wasn't speaking on behalf of other members of the board.
More than 110,000 students relied on Bright Futures scholarships last year, a large share of them attending public universities.
None of the 15 other members of the Board of Governors, most of whom are appointed by the governor, would answer emailed questions about why they refused to lift the standardized test rule. One directed a reporter to Board Chair Syd Kitson and Chancellor Marshall Criser. Neither responded to requests for comment.
Other state universities across the country have gone "test-optional" this year, temporarily suspending the requirement for applicants to submit scores because many exam sessions were canceled during the spring and summer as the pandemic raged on. But Florida has kept the rule, even as parents, students and the admissions directors at the state's universities, have asked for relief.
Criser said during a board meeting last month he expected thousands of students to take the tests over the next several weeks, including during in-school sessions where they're administered free of charge.
"We're watching this very carefully because we realize, obviously, that a seat available in Panama City doesn't necessarily solve a problem for a student in Miami-Dade County so we want to make sure those exams are available statewide," he said.
The SAT is the most popular college entrance exam with Florida students and more than 125,000 tests have been administered throughout the state this fall during both national and in-school test dates, Board of Governors spokeswoman Renee Fargason wrote in an email to the Sentinel. The College Board, which makes the test, expects to administer thousands of more exams between now and early December.
The board also is asking universities to extend students' deadlines to submit the required scores for admission, if possible. The University of Florida announced recently it is extending its admissions deadline from Nov. 1 to Nov. 16 and Florida State University has said it will accept scores through Dec. 31.