By Mateo Gomez
This year proved difficult for Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF), including 30 schools across the state, as the EASE grant was at risk during a Feb. 12 session in the Florida House, under the Education and Appropriations Committee. But, as a result of student activists speaking out, EASE grants are safe for now.
Florida student residents received $2,841 in tuition assistance for the 2019-2020 school year. This tuition equalization grant is known as the Effective Access Student Education Grant, or EASE. The grant was formerly called Florida Resident Access Grant (FRAG).
Representative Randy Fine wanted to slash the amount to $1,222 per student in a budget exercise. This is around 57 percent of the amount granted the previous year.
After weeks in session, Representative Fine decided to turn EASE into a need-based grant, which some view as contradictory to the initial purpose of the grant.
“It’s a tuition equalization grant, meaning it is not based on merit or need,” said Elizabeth Winslow, ICUF Vice President for research and policy. “If this would have been done, it would have slashed 65 percent of EASE recipients and would have threatened the liability of many of our schools.”
Many schools, including Barry University, would be affected.
“EASE is immensely important to our students and our university. So many of our students rely on that in order to attend Barry,” said Barry President Mike Allen.
Twenty-one percent of Barry University students receive the EASE grant.
After a long fight, government officials decided to keep EASE the same for the 2020 – 2021 school year.
This achievement would not have been possible without the 40 ICUF Presidential Fellows for each school and over 300 passionate students that went to Tallahassee this semester.
ICUF Presidential Fellows are nominated by the President of the institution and have many tasks. Such tasks include writing letters to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, senators, and representatives. They also travel to Tallahassee and meet with these decision makers.
These fellows are most often student leaders on campus. In other words, a student who maintains a high G.P.A., has profound leadership abilities, knowledge of state and local government, and a student with a strong connection to others.
Dr. Sean Foreman, political science professor, is the ICUF mentor for Barry University. He keeps up with information from Tallahassee, trains the Presidential Fellows, and prepares for the Tallahassee mentors.
“The amount given to students being the same was actually a major victory compared to everything [the grant] went through,” said Dr. Foreman. “Student activism really works.”
Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, it is unknown what obstacles will follow in the 2021-2022 school year.
“Due to COVID-19, we don’t know what the economy is going to look like, but we are going in with a hopeful attitude. It is hard to predict,” said Winslow.
Dr. Foreman seconds this, adding that the EASE grant could be in jeopardy again.
“The COVID-19 crisis occurred, and the Florida government has to see where to spend taxpayer money. The EASE grant was eyed before and it might be eyed again in order to fight the health crisis,” said Dr. Foreman.
COVID-19, however, will affect more than just EASE recipients.
“I think the conversation around the impact of COVID-19 is going to be much broader and bigger than just EASE,” said Dr. Allen. “We will be encountering a new financial reality when we come out on the other side of this, and nobody knows what that is going to look like.”
While the affect for coming years is still unknown, EASE recipients can expect to receive $2,841 for the 2020 – 2021 school year, proving this difficult year one that is a short-term success.