Changes to TOPS on the horizon
The Louisiana Regular Session began on April 10. The Legislature has a huge deficit to balance and a lot of citizens who are tired of the inefficiency of their government. One of the hot topic items the Legislature has to figure out is the reform of the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students. TOPS is a very popular scholarship among students and has allowed many first-generation students to graduate college debt free. Students have felt the sting of TOPS being cut this past year because the state government can’t seem to balance a budget. There were several bills prefiled that will drastically change TOPS.
Bills to look out for:
- HB 117, Foil: Raises the minimum grade point average required for initial eligibility for a Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) Opportunity Award
- HB 194, Reynolds: Raises the minimum GPA required for initial eligibility for a TOPS Opportunity Award and provides for exceptions granted with respect to enrollment requirements for initial and continuing eligibility
- HB 390, Carter, G.: Provides relative to TOPS award amounts and for procedures for reducing award amounts in the event of insufficient funding
- SB 71, Donahue: Provides relative to TOPS award amounts
- SB 110, Luneau: Provides for residency requirements for TOPS recipients and for repayment of a TOPS award under certain circumstances
- SB 157, Hewitt: Provides relative to TOPS award amounts
Most of the listed bills have the same language within them. All of the bills that wish to raise the grade point average requirements want to change the 2.5 requirement to a 3.0 requirement. The funding bills are written to cut the scholarship program and to require students pay back the money if they fail to meet the obligations of the scholarship. The TOPS battle is not going to be won over night, and the Legislature needs to work with universities on this delicate issue.
In retrospect, TOPS does need some reformation, due to the horrible education system in Louisiana. Changing the GPA requirement is not a bad thought, because we will no longer be encouraging mediocre students to pursue a college degree. It makes the degree worthless if there are students who are only passing with minimal effort, and it is not fair to the students who strive to be top of their class. Moving this requirement to a higher standard with force students to work harder for their grades and generate a domino effect of better students. A 2.5 GPA in high school is not going to promote diligent and driven university students.
Other parts of the reformation of TOPS that involve funding are a little extreme. Louisiana is facing another year with a huge deficit, and the Legislature must attempt to balance it. Unfortunately, that means education and other non-dedicated funds are cut dramatically. TOPS is no exception to this rule and students should expect to see their scholarship money get cut even further. The legislation on the table will cut the money dedicated to students. Sometimes the government grandfather’s in the citizens who are currently within the program, but as we witnessed last year, that is probably not going to be the case. This is just a typical move by the government to promise a benefit and then take it away because of its inability to keep its word. Students are always going to get the short end of the stick when it comes to funding. Louisiana needs more citizens to pursue higher education so we can improve the quality of life, improve the economy and improve Louisiana. TOPS has generated an enormous amount of college graduates who may have otherwise not been able to go to college.
Some bills are mandating students pay back the scholarship if they have to drop out in the middle of the semester, or do not reach the requirements of the scholarship. The issue here is the money is dedicated to the student by the government, so the government already has the funds available to pay for the tuition. Why should the student have to pay back the government? As citizens, we already pay for taxes and fees. There is no reason that a student should be required to pay back a scholarship. With the current scholarships that are privately funded or funded through the university, there is no requirement that the student pays back the money given to them. If a student has to receive TOPS, and then is forced to drop out, they probably do not have the adequate funding to pay back thousands of dollars. This scheme is just another blow to students among the other long list.
With education not being a fundamental right that is protected by the laws which govern us, it is our self-duty to voice our opinions and make certain that our problems are being solved. Make sure your voice is being heard and you fight the powers that be by being informed.