Students to feel the pain of steep TOPS cuts this spring

Students to feel the pain of steep TOPS cuts this spring

Most students who receive TOPS will see their financial assistance cut by more than half for the upcoming spring semester, and right now there is no clear plan on the table to bridge the funding gap. That means thousands of students will have to make up the difference with their own money.

At LSU, those cuts mean almost $2,000 per student. The fall semester is nearing its end
and the financial burden for thousands of students is just beginning.

"There are no easy cuts left, and in fact, the cuts that we've already made are very painful," said Gov. John Bel Edwards.

With the state's deficit at $313 million for this fiscal year, legislators opted to only fully fund TOPS for the current fall semester. For the upcoming spring semester, the state cut TOPS financial assistance by more than half to make up the difference.

"There's no doubt in my mind, as I stand here, that there's going to be significant cuts that are going to impair our ability going forward to fully fund TOPS," Edwards said.

The numbers from the Louisiana Office of Financial Student Assistance reveal the bitter truth for students across the state. In our area, students attending Delgado and Nunez community colleges who qualify for TOPS will receive $800 less next semester; Southern University of New Orleans students will receive $1,100 less; Nicholls students $1,200 less.

Students at private schools like Tulane and Loyola and those at Southeastern and LSU Dental School will all get $1,400 less, and UNO students will face a cut of more than $1,500.

The university hardest hit is LSU in Baton Rouge, with students there getting cut more than $1,900.

"Even though it's going to cost them more than it would have last year it's still in their best interest to enroll to continue their education," said Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Rallo.

Rallo points to the silver lining of how any extra financial help still provides Louisiana students with a lower price for higher education than out-of-state schools. But he said students are already opting out for next semester, and that could put the university system in an even problematic situation going forward.

"I think by the end of this month we are going to start seeing students who will opt out of the award, hold it for later, or students are simply not registering," Rallo said. "That's a grave concern to a lot of our institutions because as you know, because of the funding cuts to higher education, the institutions are really heavily dependent on tuition. So if the student doesn't come back, that means less tuition, that means less revenue."

Students say one of the main discussions on campus is about the TOPS cuts.

"It's pretty significant because it's a lot more money than I have to pay into tuition, and so I really don't know what I'm going to do yet, but I'm just taking every day as it comes so far," said LSU student Peyton Blackledge.

"Some people that were usually going to college - they didn't even go to college that I know," said Shepard Thomas. "Some people are getting jobs like me and some people are depending on their parents to help them."

Gov. Edwards said he will talk to lawmakers Tuesday to try to come up with some possible solutions to the deficit. But with cuts also in store for K-12 education, health care and the state correctional department, as well as current revenue collection problems, the governor admits these cuts to TOPS are likely to happen.

More than 51,000 students qualified for TOPS for the 2016-2017 school year.

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