Questions remain over fate of TOPS scholarships

Questions remain over fate of TOPS scholarships

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The future of Louisiana's TOPS program for college students is still in question, with scholarship administrators unsure what their budget will look like next year.

In the initial executive budget proposal released in February, TOPS saw an 80 percent cut in overall funding as part of efforts to fix the state budget. At the time, the state was short $2 billion for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

With the shortfall now at $750 million after the special session, the head of the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOFSA) alerted lawmakers Tuesday that so far, she does not know if that cut to the scholarship will be reduced.

The TOPS scholarship program has a guaranteed $60.3 million in statutory dedicated funding. The scholarship needs approximately $290 million to be fully funded.

The rest of the money, which amounts to approximately $230 million, is supposed to come from the state general fund. Currently, however, TOPS is not expected to receive any money from the general fund.

If indeed less than a quarter of the TOPS budget is funded, it could put the scholarships for more than 37,000 students in jeopardy. Estimates suggest that an ACT score of 28 would be required to actually qualify for TOPS.

Sujuan Boutte, executive director of LOFSA, had the following advice for high school students and their parents.

"The watchword is don't panic, don't give up, that's the worst thing you can do. If you're already enrolled in high school, you need to continue to study hard, you need to continue to keep your grades up, get the best GPA you can," she said. "And you need to continue to look at the face that April ACT date. You may need to take that ACT to keep your score as you possibly can."

Boutte recommended that college students keep up their grades and make sure they are in compliance with all requirements for the scholarship.

The updated executive budget proposal, which takes into account the taxes raised during the special session, will not be released until next Tuesday. At that time, LOFSA leaders will have a better idea of what the future of the program could look like. However, nothing is final until legislators approve the budget bill.

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