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FSCJ Promises Debt-Free College For Some Lower-Income Students

Lindsey Kilbride
Nassau County Superintendent Kathy Burns, Duval County Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, FSCJ President Cynthia Bioteau, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Florida College System Chancellor Madeline Pumariega and National College Promise Director Matt Caffrey.

Florida State College at Jacksonville is committing to help pay for school for first-time college students seeking an associate's degree. It’s designed to help lower-income students get an associate’s degree without debt.

The new program is called the FSCJ Promise, which will aid up to 1,000 new students a year. FSCJ will help  fund the first two years of tuition, books and fees for students after federal, state and local aid doesn’t meet their needs.

In order to qualify, students must have graduated from a Nassau or Duval County high school in the past three years. It also has to be the student’s first year of college and they have to attend on a  full-time basis.

Students must also qualify for a Pell Grant, which is determined largely by income.

FSCJ President Cynthia Bioteau said currently 80 percent of students are going part time. But national data shows students who go full-time are more likely to complete their associate’s degree, she said.

“We want students go go full time but so many of our students say ‘well, we have to work in order to pay for college,’ “ Bioteau said. “The FSCJ Promise is the answer for you to come full time and finish your degree.”

Students who get Promise money must maintain above a 2.0 GPA and complete 60 hours of community service. They also won’t get funding for summer courses.

According to a LeRoy Collins Institute Study, 48 percent of state grant dollars are distributed based on need alone. But in Florida only 25.4 percent of its grant dollars are based on need.

“Florida far exceeds the national average for the percentage of children who come from low-income families with 38 percent of our children in Florida living below the 150 percent of poverty,” Bioteau said.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said this FSCJ program reinforces his vision for the city.

“It aligns with economic opportunity,” he said. “It aligns with ‘One city, One Jacksonville,’ which means every neighborhood, every zipcode, every family and specifically and young person knows that we care about them.”

FSCJ Promise is part of the College Promise Campaign, which is a national initiative to make the first two years of college free.  

Bioteau said her college is funding the Promise by redirecting unused scholarship money and private donations. Funding the Promise is among the goals of the school’s $50 million capital campaign.

Listen to this story on Redux

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.