UNO, others react to TOPS changes

Cuts to TOPS funding could cause problems for students, families

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - UNO's president said the school will do whatever it can to help students impacted because of the changes to TOPS funding.

"I do have the lowest TOPS possible, but it has paid for me to come to UNO," said student Anissa Chenert.

On UNO's campus 19 percent of students are on TOPS scholarships for their education.

Just before midnight on June 23, the legislature agreed to fund 70 percent of the total costs of the TOPS scholarship program because of the state's budget shortfall.

Not only are students concerned, but parents.

"I am raising my son on my own," said Wanda McEvoy.

McEvoy has long counted on her son who is still in high school getting money from TOPS to help pay for college.  She said she cannot afford to pay for his tuition on her own.

"My son wants to go to college," McEvoy said. "He wants a better life, he does not want to struggle, and I don't want him to struggle the way that I am in my adult years."

Lawmakers decided that additional dollars they raised through some tax hikes during the session would be "front-loaded." In other words, the money will be used to cover the full cost of tuition related to TOPS for the fall semester, but it would drop to 42 percent for the spring semester.

Governor John Bel Edwards pushed for tax hikes to cover the $600 million shortfall for the new fiscal year, which starts July 1, but lawmakers agreed to raise only $263 million.

Edwards said during a midnight press conference after the session ended that he opposes the "front-loading" approach which he said could cause problems down the line for the state and students.

"The implication of front-loading TOPS so that we fully fund the first semester, but leave kids with as much as $2,500 dollars towards their tuition in the second semester, is really problematic," the governor said. "Especially since normal avenues for student financial assistance aren't available at that time of year ... not the best policy, not responsible."

UNO President John Nicklow laid out the details for how that gap in funding would effect students.

"The exact number would be $1,850 dollars if there was no additional effort to supplement that gap," he said.

And like the governor the president of UNO also has concerns about the front-loading of TOPS funds.

"That does concern me because parents, I believe, plan for a year. And more importantly, we often plan from an aid and scholarship perspective for a year," Nicklow said. "So if we're going to put together the fall package, we don't just package fall, we package a year. It becomes very difficult to do that."

Nicklow said they will work to help students remain in school by finding other sources of aid.

"My view is that these students came to us, they're part of our Privateer family, we are obligated and committed to helping them anyway we can, and that means taking advantage of other aid sources, scholarships, to making sure that we can supplement what they're getting in every way possible."

He said all current and incoming students were alerted of the TOPS changes by email.

"What I've encouraged our current and admitted students to do is file the FAFSA, the most important thing they can do right now because it allows us to make sure that we're taking advantage of other aid sources and other scholarships, whether that be state, or federal dollars."

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