Students lament stunted TOPS funding
Students attending the University of Louisiana at Lafayette who are also enrolled in the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) are now responsible for self-funding more than half of their spring tuitions, resulting from legislative cuts in the 2016-2017 academic year.
“Seven thousand undergraduate students are on TOPS;” said DeWayne Bowie, vice president for Enrollment Management, “that’s about half of the undergraduates.”
However, despite cuts, Bowie also acknowledged that we still have high incoming freshmen enrollment.
“We live in a very populous area,” Bowie noted, “and so if cost is a factor, UL Lafayette is an easy commute, whereas schools that are being hit hardest are in rural areas. We are lucky for that.”
“The number of transfer students is not huge, but we are getting traffic from students both ways,” said Bowie, further explaining how some students were dealing with the cuts, choosing to transfer closer to family for their commutes and citing difficulties funding both tuition and a place to stay.
Bowie said that there are other ways in which UL Lafayette is attempting to help students with the cuts. Work study programs offer TOPs and scholarship students with potential jobs that can earn them up to $1,400 each during a semester.
“The university’s been looking at other ways also, setting aside close to $2 million to help students,” said Bowie. Although the grant is not named and has not been made official , UL Lafayette wants to look first at students living in dorms and then those who reside in off-campus housing. If the student’s financial aid package does not fund enough of their tuition, then UL Lafayette helps pay up to $1,000.
As tuition was raised by state government over the years, so was TOPS, which placed a strain on the government’s budget.
“I think TOPS is going to stay around, but I think it is going to morph into something different,” said Bowie.
The office of financial aid sent out emails to those students who may be affected by the TOPS cut. Every student who receives TOPS was notified the previous semester and given options such as federal work study programs, loans, hardship assistance and other additional financial aid.
Lincoln Chambers, a freshman mechanical engineering major, said TOPS was a deciding factor in attending an in-state institution because he didn’t want to pay out-of-state tuition.
“Now I gotta come out-of-pocket to come to school,” Chambers said. “It kind of took away my motivation from coming to school because I had to have conversations with my parents about staying here or if it would be better to go back home and go to McNeese (State University).”
Chambers said he must pay $4,000 to be able to afford this semester. Chambers is one of many students who must find ways to pay out-of-pocket for the spring semester.
Briana Carter, a junior biology major from Lafayette, said she saves money by residing at home with her parents. With the TOPS cut, she still must come out-of-pocket to pay for her expenses.
“I found out I have to come out-of-pocket now, and I’ve been here for two years,” said Carter.
Including TOPS, Carter receives financial aid, as well as a band scholarship that helps her pay for school, and by staying with her parents she can afford her books and supplies.
“I must come out-of-pocket a couple of hundred, but I don’t want to take out loans because I have to pay for grad school,” Carter said.
Senior Desiree’ Williams, a general studies major, said she receives multiple scholarships and financial aid to pay for all of her expenses.
“If I come out-of-pocket it’ll be $780,” said Williams. “All my scholarships cover a good bit of my tuition and fees.”
Despite the multiple scholarships she received elsewhere, which would cover out-of-state tuition and fees, Williams said she decided to stay in-state because of the TOPS scholarship.
In an email to the university students, Bowie stated they will be giving students more time to gather money to pay tuition and asks that all tuition-related financial obligations to the university be paid by Jan. 18.