UNO's president, others react to possible TOPS cuts

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - UNO's President John Nicklow and some local college students reacted Tuesday to a proposal to nearly gut funding for the popular TOPS scholarship program.

And some students receiving the scholarship urge the governor and state lawmakers to get more creative in finding solutions to the seemingly perpetual budget crises.

On UNO's lakefront campus, it took less than five minutes to find students who are receiving TOPS scholarship dollars for their education.

"TOPS is definitely a big help. It definitely gives to those who earned it, those who went to school, who put the work in, who got the ACT score," said TOPS recipient Michael Bankston.

"It would be great for, you know, people in Louisiana to be well-qualified, having a great education and the easiest way that the state does it is through TOPS," stated Jeremy Trahan, another recipient of TOPS.

But Governor John Bel Edwards proposed a worst-case scenario budget Monday which slashes TOPS funding by 80-percent.

"This is not the budget that I wanted to present to you and it is certainly not the budget that I want implemented, but these are the choices that have to be made when a billion dollars in revenues is set to roll off the books and has not yet been replaced. This is what falling off the cliff looks like," said Governor Edwards to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.

UNO President John Nicklow issued a statement in response to a request by FOX 8 News for comment on the governor's proposal.

"The state's universities are an essential piece in developing talent for business and industry. TOPS is another important facet of that talent development. We hope that our leaders will work to protect the funding for both higher education and TOPS so that our students have the best possible chance to succeed and so that our communities and businesses can flourish."

And many on college campuses worry that the state's best and brightest students who have educational opportunities outside of Louisiana will decide to leave the state because of the ongoing uncertainty over TOPS funding.

"It doesn't only just affect the current people in the universities, but it affects the future students who are trying to get an education and just don't have the privileges that sometimes come with having a good amount of money in the bank," said Kathleen Mendoza, who is currently benefiting from TOPS.

"Coming up with that money would have to make me focus more on getting a job, putting time into that job and you know having some time for school," said Louai Nassar about the prospect of losing his TOPS dollars.

Trahan said the governor and state legislators must consider myriad options for increasing state revenues so that higher education is not forced to weather more budget cuts.

"You have to get creative with it, maybe look at other states, see what they have done with their tax code to increase their revenue," he said.

"Find another way I guess not to cut it," added Nassar.

Bankston said he will not let questions about the future of TOPS diminish his dreams.

"No, I'm definitely going to be a doctor, going to be a psychiatrist no matter what happens. Whether I have to pay out of pocket or not, or take out a loan, but definitely it would impair some of those who are not so sure about their future," Bankston said.