TOPS Uncertainty

Feb 15, 2016

Credit courtesy LOSFA

“The people out there – all they hear is that TOPS is over,” West Monroe Senator Mike Walsworth complained Monday.

Walsworth is one of many lawmakers who have been inundated with calls and emails from constituents, worried about the popular college scholarship program being curtailed. 

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne told legislators, “The universities are telling us they have concerns about being able to complete the current semester. If they’re not going to be able to complete the regular semester, absent additional funding, then there’s no reason to fund that additional TOPS amount.”

Here’s the current status of TOPS: the state still owes colleges tops dollars for this year’s tuition. The state doesn’t have the money to pay it.

“The universities would be responsible for eating the cost of the remaining $28-million shortfall in TOPS,” Dardenne explained. “It would not be borne by the students, or by their parents.”

“We’re just trying to find out what would happen if nothing does happen,” Walsworth said.

That’s where the bigger uncertainty over TOPS comes in. Next year, with the governor’s so-called “doomsday scenario” budget, the only money available for TOPS is what has been constitutionally dedicated out of the Tobacco Settlement. That is just $60.3-million, 20-percent of the program’s $300-million current annual pricetag.

Lousiana Office of Student Financial Assistance director Dr. Sujuan Boutte’ says under that scenario, TOPS would only be granted to the top 20-percent of students.

“What I would be left with is a portion of students with ACT scores of 28 or above, and all students with an ACT of 27 and below would be affected.”

A perfect score on the ACT is 36. Currently, students qualify for TOPS with ACT scores of 17 or above.