New TOPS legislation could mean more costs for public college students

New TOPS legislation could mean more costs for public college students

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Public college students in Louisiana who receive tuition money from TOPS could soon be paying more out of pocket to go to school. That's because of a bill that just passed the Senate.

Serenity Fox is only 16 years old, but she's already a freshman at the University of New Orleans. Fox, like many other students, worries about tuition costs. "I wouldn't go here if I have to pay out of pocket," Fox said.

Fox receives money from the state's TOPS program. This year, TOPS will cost the state $250 million. By fiscal year 2019, that figure will balloon to $360 million.

State Sen. Jack Donahue says something needed to be done to save the program, so he drafted a bill. Donahue explains, "We ensured the continuation of the TOPS program for years to come while doing something also to control its continuing escalation of cost."

Donahue's proposal, which passed the Senate on Wednesday, says if any school passes a tuition hike, TOPS will not automatically rise. The program would first need approval from the Legislature. For example, if UNO starts charging Serenity Fox more for her studies, the amount of money she receives from TOPS to offset the tuition costs, might not increase.

UNO student Ike Onyonekwu explains how that might affect him, saying, "I'm gonna have to readjust my pockets as far as out-of-pocket tuition payments."

But Sen. Donahue argues that Louisiana's public schools all support his bill. "There are four university systems across the state and they're in favor of this program because it helps to limit the growth of TOPS and they see that as being part of what we need to do in Louisiana to make Louisiana more fiscally responsible," Donahue explained.

With all of the schools facing massive budget cuts as the state struggles to fill a $1.6 billion deficit, students like Fox and Onyonekwu say they wouldn't be surprised to see tuition increases in the near future, making it that much harder for them to achieve their dreams.

Students at UNO and LSU are planning rallies Thursday to protest budget cuts to higher education. Meanwhile, Donahue's bill, which was opposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, will now head to the Louisiana House Education Committee.

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