Published: Jul 12, 2012 11:22 PM EDT
Updated: Jul 13, 2012 9:00 AM EDT

LEE COUNTY, Fla. - Many college students are heading back to higher tuition rates, and some are counting on scholarships to help ease the blow.

But with classes starting in a few weeks, some are learning the state-funded scholarship they were awarded can't be used toward their tuition.

Barbara Peterson, with FGCU's financial aid office, says Florida's Bright Futures scholarship underwent more changes this year. A crucial one pertains to the Gold Seal scholarship, which lawmakers decided can no longer be used for an associate or bachelor's degree in arts.

Peterson says the change took effect at the beginning of the month, meaning some students and parents are just now finding out the money they were counting on can't be used like they planned.

"They're coming in a saying, 'Wow this is kind of blind-siding us, and Johnny or Susie were really looking forward to coming to FGCU,'" says Peterson.

The new rules come as the amount Bright Futures awards each student continues to decline.

According to Peterson, the main scholarship, Florida Medallion Scholars, paid for 75% of a student's tuition in 1997. She says it's dropped considerably since then.

"Now it covers $75 (per semester hour), which it turns out to be more like 37% (of tuition) today," Peterson says. "They're not able, with the financial constraints... to do what they did back in '97."

Bright Futures has also increased its academic and community service requirements, meaning fewer students are receiving money, says Peterson.

Meantime, state funding cuts are causing FGCU and other state universities to raise tuition rates to make ends meet.

FGCU got permission last month to hike tuition 12%.