TOPS officials: Students should seek additional assistance

TOPS officials: Students should seek additional assistance while funding remains uncertain

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The fate of the TOPS scholarship program is on the minds of students across Louisiana university campuses and state officials suggest students begin looking for scholarships of their own while legislators attempt to fix the $750 million shortfall for next fiscal year.

At this point, the only money set aside for TOPS is $65 million from a tobacco settlement, leaving the program $200 million under budget.

"I think that's going to affect a lot of the students who go to college getting rid of funding, funding they always depend on," Xavier student Kimberly Dorrah said.

Under state law, if the program runs out of money students with the lowest ACT scores would be left out, even if he or she is already enrolled in college courses and received TOPS funding this year.

"If the money doesn't change, if it's still about $65 million, the likelihood of a 27-28 ACT is going to become reality. If there is additional funding, it may go down to a 26,25 or 24," LA Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Joseph Rallo said. "For students who had TOPS for a year or two or three, they are in the same category as the student who is graduating high school."
To stay ahead of TOPS' financial uncertainty, officials urge students to fill out their Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA) before the July 1 deadline.  Students who miss the FAFSA deadline will be eliminated from the program.

"If they have not filled out the FAFSA, they're not even in the game,"  Rallo said.

The Louisiana Officer of Student Financial Assistance is standing by to get some more concrete data about the future of TOPS when Governor John Bel Edwards' administration introduces a revised budget plan on Tuesday.

"If we can assist students with filing the FAFSA or completing the FAFSA or anything of that nature, we can do that. They can contact us and we'll be happy to answer any questions they may have about filling out the form," LOSFA Public Information Officer Gus Whales said.

In the meantime, the agency suggests students and parents seek out any other financial help or scholarships available.

LOSFA has hundreds of scholarships on its website, but Whales also suggests seeking out scholarships in the community.

"They also should check and see if their parents employers offer scholarship for the children of their employees. Many companies do. Also many churches will offer scholarships for students who are a part of their congregation," Whales said.

Last year, more than 54,000 students received TOPS funding.
As the program stands right now, 37,000 students would lose financial assistance if legislators fail to find additional revenue.

"Students should not give up hope," Rallo said. "Look for other scholarship sources, but until the session ends or when the special session ends in the end of June, that's really when we're going to know in stone what the reality is going to be."

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