Students are missing out on free money for their futures

From local scholarships to federal grants, billions of dollars in financial aid are available to help students continue their education after graduation. But every year, money is left on the table and barriers are standing in the way of students’ paths to success.


Middle and high school years are critical times for students to develop the key skills and competencies they need to be prepared to continue their education or training. Being prepared for life after graduation can result in better job opportunities and promote economic mobility for low-income students, financial security and opportunities for growth in their lives and for our community. Reports show some students develop a career plan as early as 9th grade, but many lack a supportive adult to provide guidance.

Hillsborough Education Foundation is committed to supporting students’ success in high school and beyond through our College and Career Readiness programs and our new initiative this year at King High School—SCOPE: Student Center for Postsecondary Exploration.

In the first half of the school year, our staff has assisted more than 150 students in the center with one-on-one college and career planning, admissions and financial aid applications and provided options for career, technical and workforce pathways.

Recognizing and removing barriers in college and career navigation ensures that all students in the county have equitable access to achieving postsecondary success.


Every year, Florida high school students miss out on more than $300 million in grants to help continue their educations after graduation because they do not complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

Most Florida college students use a combination of federal, state, and college-based aid to pay for school, and FAFSA can help unlock aid through grants, loans or work-study funding for students attending a variety of postsecondary institutions, including technical colleges and career programs.

Students who complete the FAFSA are more likely to enroll in college and complete their degrees. National data shows 90% of students who complete the FAFSA enroll in college directly from high school, compared to just 55% of non-completers, but it can be a complicated process.

For low-income and first-generation students, non-completion of the FAFSA is more often caused by a lack of awareness or a lack of access to information about financial aid. Parents, particularly those who did not attend college, may not know about the existence of financial aid opportunities, do not understand FAFSA terminology or are put off by the complexity of the form and process required to complete it.

Helping families complete FAFSA is one of HEF’s strategies to remove barriers for students to attend college.


The state of Florida also offers the Bright Futures Scholarship Program that rewards students for their academic achievements during high school by providing funding for them to pursue post-secondary educational and career goals in Florida. Created by the Florida Legislature in 1997, Bright Futures aims to reward the state’s best high school students with scholarships that cover 75% or 100% of yearly tuition and fees.

It is the largest state financial aid program in the country, funded by state lottery proceeds, that is solely merit-based on good grades, volunteer or work hours and high ACT/SAT scores and does not consider a student’s financial need or family’s income.

While Bright Futures is a wonderful opportunity for many—paying tuition bills for nearly 1 million students over the years, unfortunately, it is not impacting all students equitably.

Department of Education data regarding the racial and ethnic makeup of grant recipients of Florida’s higher education financial aid programs, including the Bright Futures program, shows disparities in disbursements.

  • In the 2021-2022 school year, Bright Futures scholarships were disbursed to 119,837 students – 54% of them were white, 6% were African American, and 28% were Hispanic.
  • In the history of the 25-year program, the share of Bright Futures grants going to Black students has never exceeded 7 percent.

An Orlando Sentinel investigation found that Bright Futures’ benefits go disproportionately to students from more affluent areas and mostly bypass students living in poorer neighborhoods — the same neighborhoods where higher lottery ticket sales provide much of Bright Futures’ money.

While Florida leaders highlight Bright Futures as one of the initiatives that helped make public universities in Florida affordable, HEF encourages lawmakers to ensure that it is an opportunity accessible to ALL students in our state.


The financial strain of postsecondary education or training is the biggest barrier for many students and is a reason why HEF invests in their futures through our scholarship programs. HEF awarded $1.3 million to 2022 graduates in our Take Stock in Children mentoring program and Community Scholarship applicants. Thanks to the generosity of our business partners, community organizations and individual donors, these scholarships allow students to pursue their dreams and obtain education they may not have access to otherwise.


You can make a difference in students’ lives and help ensure every student graduates ready for success by supporting our College and Career Readiness programs by donating to HEF or volunteering.

Become a Mentor or Volunteer at SCOPE

With one of the largest mentoring programs in Tampa Bay, HEF supports more than 300 students in our Take Stock in Children program and is in need of more caring role models in our community to serve as a mentor.

You can also give the gift of your time by volunteering in our college and career readiness center at King High School to provide support and help set up students for postsecondary success.

To volunteer with HEF, email Mindy Taylor at [email protected] or call (813) 574-0268.

Review Scholarship Applications

Last year, Hillsborough Education Foundation awarded 200+ Community Scholarships. To do so, more than 1,300 applications each required a review by 3 independent volunteers. We need more amazing volunteers to read and score this year’s online applications! You can review as many or few as you would like at your convenience.  To learn more about becoming a scholarship reviewer, email Angie Anthony at [email protected] or call (813) 574-0273.

You can also check out all HEF’s volunteering opportunities and apply today at