BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - LSU student leaders are firing back after the Board of Regents submitted a list of possible changes to the TOPS program if legislators are not able to find enough money to fully fund the program.
LSU student government president, Zack Faircloth, submitted a letter to the Board of Regents Monday criticizing the board's proposals.
"I think this was one of the first times I've ever seen students sincerely be upset enough to say, 'We're going to take this into our own hands,'" Faircloth said.
Two of the proposals seek to regulate how TOPS dollars are distributed. The first would enforce an 80-90-100 rule where students would receive a different level of funding based on their class rank. Under the plan, freshmen would have 80 percent of their TOPS award funded, sophomores would have 90 percent of their scholarship funded, and juniors and seniors would receive full funding.
The second is a flat rate approach which would distribute the same TOPS funding to students statewide regardless of the school they attend. Under that plan, students could receive a full ride at some schools, while they would have to pay some of their tuition costs at others depending on how much their school of choice charges for tuition.
The proposal students are most upset about though is one that takes aim at who is eligible for the scholarship. It calls for only students who take 30 credit hours a year to receive TOPS. This is up from the current 24 credit hour requirement. Faircloth said these rules are not fair and could push Louisiana's best and brightest out of state.
"We're just regulating talent when a really bright student could just go over to Mississippi and take 12 credit hours and get the same scholarship," Faircloth added.
Dr. Joseph Rallo, Commissioner of Higher Education, said he hears the concerns, but believes requiring more credit hours would keep students on track to graduate and actually save them money in the long run.
"Only 39 percent of students on TOPS graduate in four years," Rallo said. "That means for the fifth year and the sixth year, they're paying tuition, they're paying fees, and they're not in the workforce."
Rallo said it's also important for students to know that none of these proposals are set in stone and that their hope is that TOPS will be fully funded. "The ideal scenario is for the legislature to fully fund TOPS, but what we're trying to do is to say, 'OK, if there's lesser funding, what are some other options that might be viable out there,'" he said.
While these proposals are a long way from becoming reality, whatever decision is made, Faircloth hopes it is one that keeps the students in mind. "We see time and time again as we rush and make decisions and we try to make these drastic reforms, when in reality, we're the ones who get affected," Faircloth added.
Rallo said ultimately, the future of TOPS rests on the shoulders of lawmakers and depends largely on if they decide to touch the state's "Rainy Day Fund" during the special legislative session that begins on Monday, February 13.
The full letter from LSU student government president to the Board of Regents can be read below: