TOPS: Can Louisiana afford to keep its promise to degree-seeking students?

HOLLY JENKINS
Reporter

Over the past year, Louisiana students have worried about the possibility of losing scholarships endowed by the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) due to higher education budget cuts from the state.

For many students, TOPS is essential for paying tuition; losing this income source may cause some to halt their postsecondary education.

The total amount of TOPS scholarships paid during the 2015-2016 school year was $255,420,006.60. Within that figure, NSU students received $9,611,053.64, which was less than 90 percent of what the state promised to pay.

The gap between the full TOPS award and what was actually paid grew larger in 2016-2017. While three percent fewer NSU students qualified for assistance, the state paid 69 percent of what was initially awarded.

According to NSU President Dr. Chris Maggio, TOPS is still up for discussion at the state legislature. House Bill 1 recently passed from the House of Representatives to the Senate; Maggio said this is a move in the right direction, but “the fight is far from over.”

“We will work to assist our students as much as we can with their expenses,” Maggio said. “We don’t want to speculate on what we can [or] can’t do until we see how much TOPS is funded and review our budget for next year.”

The bill, written by Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, proposes to fully fund TOPS with the new state budget beginning July 1. Originally, the bill only funded TOPS at 70 percent but was changed to the full amount after House deliberation.

The Senate will discuss the bill within the next few weeks, and a decision will be made by June 8 at 6 p.m.

After the Senate votes, the bill will go back to the House for approval. The bill will then go to the conference committee, which requires three to five members of each chamber to discuss the bill, come to an agreement and produce what is known as a “conference report.” In order for House Bill 1 to pass, this conference report must be approved by the Senate and the House, who UL System President Dr. Jim Henderson said often vote “in the last minutes of the last day of the [legislative] session.”

“We will continue to advocate from the ULS office for full funding of TOPS,” Henderson said. “We view it as a state commitment to students that simply must be fulfilled.”

Contributions by Christina Arrechavala, Alec Horton and Jordan Reich

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