“The TOPS program serves the citizens of Louisiana very, very well,” state Senator Blade Morrish of Jennings told the task force he chairs. “That being said, I think the current program, which was developed a little over 20 years ago, is an antiquated program that’s in the 20th century and not in the 21st century.”
Morrish presented a package of proposals to the TOPS Task Force, as they'll be drafting their final recommendations for the upcoming legislative session during their couple of remaining meetings.
“We’re not changing the GPAs or the requirements under my proposals, and it actually reduces TOPS expenditures by $20 million,” Morrish says of his suggested changes, which would affect nearly every category of TOPS award.
Currently there are four levels of scholarships: TOPS Tech, which is for those enrolling in associate degree or job certification programs; then there are TOPS Opportunity, Performance and Honors for four-year degree programs, with requirements and benefits increasing at each level.
Morrish’s plan doesn’t change TOPS Tech, but it slims down TOPS Opportunity, which is available to those graduating high school with a 2.5 GPA and a 20 on the ACT.
“I would change that to a flat $4,000 award,” Morrish says.
Acknowledging that amount is well below the median tuition at Louisiana's public universities, which is approximately $5,620 annually, Morrish added, “But even at $4,000, it is the most lucrative public scholarship in the United States of America.”
TOPS Performance qualifiers would still get tuition, but the $400 stipend currently offered would go away. TOPS Honors recipients would get tuition and a stipend of $1,500 instead of the current $800 stipend. Then a new level of TOPS scholarships would be added.
“I call it ‘Honors-Plus.’ That would require a 4.0 GPA, a 30 or better ACT.,” Morrish explained. “You would get tuition and a $2,500 stipend.”
State Senator Bodi White likes the idea of scaling up the incentives for students.
“For years I've been asking the universities to step it up. With this, we’re asking our students to step it up.”
Morrish says he’s discussed the proposal with the governor and most of the higher education systems. The task force will debate the concept at their next meeting.