'Too Many Broken Promises': TOPS Dilemma May Force Louisiana Students to Look Out of State

"Back when she was a stellar high school senior looking at colleges, Rachel Campbell's parents in Mandeville urged her to go to Alabama. The deal offered by the University of Alabama was sweet: a full ride including room and board, plus opportunities to study abroad," The Advocate reports. "Campbell, though, was a fan of LSU's political communications program, and she prevailed because TOPS made that preference financially feasible. The Taylor Opportunity Program for Students pays most tuition and costs for about 52,000 students who have achieved modest academic goals. Louisiana is spending about $292 million for TOPS this year, which includes tuition coverage and, in some cases, stipends for high-achieving students."

"That decision to stay in Louisiana didn't look as good in 2017 when that year's state fiscal crisis led legislators to consider taking money from the politically popular program to help balance the budget.

Her parents, again, pushed Alabama. The sophomore seriously considered transferring.

But when all was said and done, legislators in June 2017, cut TOPS leaving students about 60 days to come up with an extra $3,000 or so to pay for school. Campbell was able to get a campus job and got a little help from her parents.

Now for the second time in three years, the funding for TOPS has been cut.

'If I was a high school senior again this year, I think I would be looking out of state,' Campbell said.

The state budget for the fiscal year that begins in less than three weeks on July 1 funds the grant program at only 70 percent. In that same budget, higher education institutions lost 25 percent of their annual appropriations.

Lawmakers are returning June 18 to Baton Rouge for the third time this year to try to overcome their philosophical differences on how to balance state spending with the revenues available — perhaps raise taxes enough to fully fund TOPS.

Higher education leaders have pleaded with the legislature to stabilize funding for TOPS and higher education earlier in the year. Come late June, most students already have decided where they're going to college and, particularly with high-achieving students, they are weighing lucrative offers from other states against a program that may or may not get fully funded each year.

LSU President F. King Alexander said the uncertainty is creating 'question marks in parents' and students' minds' about whether TOPS will be a sustainable program."

NASFAA's "Headlines" section highlights media coverage of financial aid to help members stay up to date with the latest news. Inclusion in Today's News does not imply endorsement of the material or guarantee the accuracy of information presented.

 

Publication Date: 6/13/2018

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