LA higher ed officials to vote on proposed change to TOPS requirement

LA. Higher Ed officials to vote on proposed change to TOPS requirement

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Huge decisions affecting students attending Louisiana's public colleges and universities are expected to be made this week by the Board of Regents which oversees the state's higher education system.

One of the proposals expected to be voted on this week is the Think 30 initiative that would require that all TOPS recipients earn 30 credit hours per school year instead of 24 or less.

"That plan really wouldn't work for a lot of students," said Antonio Torres, president of the UNO student body.

He said some majors are very demanding.

"Unfortunately, some programs taking 15 credit hours a semester it isn't possible and some of your STEM majors like your engineering classes like that just taking 15 doesn't fit into some of our students' schedules," Torres said.

UNO President Dr. John Nicklow said they are already encouraging students to take more than 12 hours.

"Some of these changes, I think, are actually beneficial to the institution and really beneficial to the student. One of the examples is the 30 credit hours we have an initiative here called 15 to Finish which encourages all students, all undergraduates to take 15 credit hours each semester," Nicklow said.

"Right now less than 40 percent of students on TOPS graduate in four years. About 87 percent of them graduate in five years, so what we're saying with this proposal, you save a year's worth of tuition fees which they have to pay out of pocket, you get into the workforce, you earn a paycheck," said Dr. Joseph Rallo, commissioner of Higher Education in Louisiana.

Another proposal would have the Board of Regents develop statewide guidelines for dual enrollment programs for high-schoolers.

"To make better use of the junior and senior year in high school by increasing dual credit classes, you know, college classes," said Rallo.

In the last two years UNO increased its dual enrollment by over 30 percent, according to Nicklow.

"We offer psychology courses, we offer beginning in the fall an introduction to engineering, an introduction to business courses. I'm very much in favor of that," said Nicklow.

For many students there are concerns about future budget cuts to higher education during the special session continuing at the state capitol. The session must end by midnight on Wednesday and the Board of Regents meeting is set for Friday.

"For lawmakers, it's just not a priority. For the last nine years we've seen 16 cuts to higher education," said Torres, who is frustrated by the constant threat of cuts.

Rallo said they continue to push for full funding for TOPS but must operate in the current fiscal reality.

"We no longer have a budget of $1.5 billion, it's closer to $700 million," he said.

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