State restores partial TOPS funding, but future uncertain

State restores partial TOPS funding, but future uncertain

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The state student financial office restored 80 percent of funding to the TOPS program Friday, but the future of the popular scholarship program is still very much up in the air.

Some UNO students are now talking about moving on as they brace for yet another round of cuts.

"I'm worried. I'm three months from graduating," said senior Kierra Condoll.

Students have been dealing with millions of dollars in cuts since Katrina, and have had a hard time getting to know teachers.

"I have a lot of friends, who don't know what classes to take, a lot of the teachers aren't here anymore," said student Courtney Abate.

"Let's put out the notice that we will resume processing next week," said Sujuan Boutte' with the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance.

Partial restoration means students won't have to foot tuition bills this semester, but universities will take a hit on top of the $42 million in cuts they already face.

"I have 265 [million dollars]. That's all I have to pay, and I will pay full to 265 which is 80 percent of the bills, and schools will have to come up with a plan to pay he other 20 percent," said Boutte.

Business leaders say it's time for an overhaul.

"Right now we have too many institutions, and we are not providing excellent education at specific ones like we need to," said Michael Hecht with GNO Inc.

They say it doesn't have to be like this.

"Louisiana is a rich state but a poor structure," Hect said. "We got the river and the energy. This is the envy of the country, but we don't have the right tax structure."

But while many would agree it's time to rethink the budget and avoid near-constant turmoil on college campuses and hospitals, there's not much time.

"It's clear that in a three-week special session we are going to be focusing on solving the cash flow issue, and that will be the only focus," said Hecht.

While TOPS will be partially funded for the current spring semester, students worry about a cloudy future.

"For the fall semester, that will be significantly reduced," said Boutte.

"I kinda want to transfer to a different school in another state, maybe private, because it's very hard to depend on public funding," said Condoll.

All eyes are now on state lawmakers grappling for solutions.

The head of the financial assistance office said all they have available for TOPS funding this fall is tobacco settlement money of about $63 million. That's only about a 25 percent of the current level.

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