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Stakes are high as lawmakers mull changes to TOPS, report finds

31st May 2016   ·   0 Comments

The fate of the TOPS program is weighing heavily on the minds of students and their families across Louisiana as lawmakers consider measures to overhaul the college scholarship program.

FOX 8 News reported last week that with a variety of proposals being considered, Tulane University released a new report.

“What we’re looking at is not the terms of the financial effects, but how these changes would really affect students,” Tulane Policy Director Vincent Rossmeier explained to FOX 8 News.

If state lawmakers decide to raise the minimum GPA requirements from 2.5 to 2.75, New Orleans would be greatly impacted. According to the report, 28 percent fewer students in the city would be eligible.

“It would also severely impact the students coming from private schools, which is one thing that a lot of people don’t think about when they think about TOPS,” Rossmeier said.

Increasing the minimum qualifying ACT by just one point would impact African-American students the most. Requiring a 21 on the ACT would mean, according to the study, 32 percent fewer African-American students in New Orleans would be eligible. Statewide, the study reveals 36 percent fewer African Americans would be eligible.

“What we’re really looking to do with this is just raise awareness about the issue and say that we’re not advocating for any kinds of cuts, but if they have to, it should be done in a way so that the students who could least afford college are protected,” Rossmeier told FOX 8.

Rossmeier said if legislators must reduce the costs of TOPS, the Cowen Institute suggests making it need-based on family income.

“Right how about 40 percent of students are coming from families making $100,00 or more, and 20 percent are coming from families making $150,000 or more,” Rossmeier said.

He said if only students from families with incomes of $50,000 or less were eligible, the cost of the program would be cut by two-thirds.

Another recommendation would be to create a sliding scale, where students pay what they can afford.

Education officials, students and their families won’t know how much money the state has for the TOPS program until Gov. John Bel Edwards and state lawmakers finalize the budget. That should happen sometime in June.

In an effort to underscore the dire need for TOPS among prospective college students in New Orleans, high schoolers gathered last month at Warren Easton to talk about how budget cuts to TOPS would negative impact their plans to attend college.

Among those who spoke out was Edrice Patton, who told his peers and education officials, “Being the eighth child of 10 children, I will be the only one graduating from high school and pursuing a degree in college.

“TOPS means so much to me and my family,” the Algiers Tech student added.

The leaders of all 82 of New Orleans’ public schools recently signed a letter to Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and state lawmakers urging state elected officials to reconsider proposed cuts to the program that has made it possible for tens of thousands financially struggling students to attend Louisiana colleges and universities.

This article originally published in the May 30, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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