Tens of thousands of college students in Louisiana are scrambling to cover the cost of tuition for the spring semester after the state pulled about half the funding for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS), a generous, merit-based state scholarship. Most students will lose half of their scholarship funds for the spring semester of 2017, forcing them to find other sources of funding or risk dropping out.
“There will be students who drop out,” Dan Reneau, interim president of the University of Louisiana System, told CNN. “We don’t know how many, but it will probably be the students with the most need.”
Louisiana has been facing major budget shortfalls, and because of this, funding for public higher education in the state has decreased 39 percent since 2008, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. During the same time, tuition increased on average $3,500 throughout the state. TOPS cost the state $300 million annually.
The future of TOPS is uncertain, but legislation passed in early 2016 indicates that the amount of each award will not increase as tuition increases, as it had in the past. Among dozens of legislative proposals to reform the program, some suggest a tiered structure that would allocate more funding to students from lower-income families and less to those from higher-income families. Other proposals aim to raise the merit bar, requiring better grades or more classes. Currently, students must only take 24 credit hours per year; the new minimum will likely be 30 credit hours per year.
Before funding cuts were made to TOPS, the program covered the full cost of tuition for four years for students who graduated high school in Louisiana with at least a 2.5 GPA and an a minimum score of 20 on the ACT.