TOPS scholarship program in 'jeopardy,' requirements may change - FOX 8, WVUE,, weather, app, news, saints

TOPS scholarship program in 'jeopardy,' requirements may change

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High school students may have to earn as high as a 27 on the ACT just to meet requirements for TOPS next year, with the lack of funding for the program as it stands right now.  

"For parents and students who felt their college saving plan was to achieve a minimum 20 on your ACT would allow you to get TOPS, that may be in jeopardy and it is in jeopardy right now because the funding is 80 percent reduced," La. Board of Regents Commissioner Dr. Joseph Rallo said. 

TOPS is so underfunded that if lawmakers fail to find the money for next fiscal year, thousands of students would lose scholarships and the minimum ACT score requirement would skyrocket, according to Rallo. 

"If nothing changes, about 9,000 students would probably be eligible for TOPS compared to about 45,000 this past year, and the ACT minimum would probably be around 27 or 28," he said. "But students should be patient. We don't want students to go out of state. We don't want them to not go to college because they can't afford it. It's a tough position to be in." 

"I don't think there is a huge appetite among the body to have the TOPS program to start at 27," said State Rep. Stephanie Hilferty. "It's inevitable that some changes will be made to the program."

Hilferty believes lawmakers will act in time to keep the minimum ACT requirement near the current score of 20. She is introducing two bills to address TOPS issues, one of which would deny cosmetology and for-profit university students TOPS funding.

"A lot of people aren't actually aware that this is available. You can use a TOPS tech award to attend a proprietary or cosmetology school. This includes some private for-profit colleges and training centers," Hilferty said. 

Lawmakers introduced 16 bills during the current session concerning TOPS. Some lawmakers want to raise minimum act score to 21. Others want to increase the minimum GPA of high school students who receive TOPS from a 2.5 to a 2.75.

Another bill from Kenner Rep. Julie Stokes would mandate that students who drop out without earning a degree pay back a percentage of the money the state paid toward their college education. 

"This would be a way to not change anybody's eligibility but just to make sure that they would take this opportunity seriously," Stokes said.  

All of these proposed changes would not affect students graduating this year and would also protect students already in college.

But if lawmakers don't find the money to fully fund the TOPS program, students already getting TOPS may be in jeopardy of losing scholarships. The state still has a more than $800 million budget shortfall for next year fiscal year. Lawmakers are expected to tackle the deficit during another special session to convene after the current session.  

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