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Thursday, August 28, 2014
Southwest Louisiana ,
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Push to reform TOPS tuition program

Last Modified: Friday, June 13, 2014 11:05 AM

Both chambers of the Louisiana Legislature have been dark for less than two weeks, but already there’s a push to study ways to reform a popular college tuition program.

The initiative started on the final day of the regular session earlier this month when state lawmakers passed a resolution for several groups to study TOPS, aka the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students.

Formed in 1999, TOPS has proved popular with parents and students alike, covering tuition costs to public universities in the state for those who meet certain academic requirements.

A bill that would have raised TOPS academic standards in future years passed the House but failed in the Senate. The legislation would have raised the minimum scores to qualify for a TOPS scholarship to 21 on the ACT, up from 20, and to a 2.75 grade-point average, up from 2.5. Those higher standards would not have been applied until the 2017-2018 school year.

But some legislators argued the stiffer standards would hurt minority students.

Most rational minds comprehend that on its present cost trajectory, TOPS is unsustainable. Projections are the program will cost $300 million in the short term and $387 million by 2018-2019 if no reforms materialize.

But like their D.C. counterparts who rail against the nation’s rising debt but do next to nothing to address it, state lawmakers appear to be incapable of embracing reality.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has been part of the issue here, opposing any changes to TOPS. But what does he care? He already has one foot outside of the state’s borders as he nourishes his presidential ambitions and besides, it’ll be another governor’s headache by the time 2018 rolls around.

The resolution requires that state to collect data on TOPS recipients’ race, gender, household income, standardized test scores and GPA.

State lawmakers and university officials have been troubled by the number of students who qualify for TOPS but either drop out early in their college careers or fail to maintain required academic standards.

What will come of this? Probably very little because 2015 is an election year and there will likely be minimal appetite for reforming TOPS before a new legislative body is sworn in in 2016.

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