UNO bridges TOPS funding gap; other university students still on the hook

UNO bridges TOPS funding gap; other university students still on the hook

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The University of New Orleans is taking advantage of unused federal money to fund the gap created by the popular but underfunded TOPS program.

"We're calling it the UNO Award for TOPS scholars, but again it's no new money," UNO President Dr. John Nicklow said.

About 1,500 UNO students were staring down a $1,750 hit for the upcoming spring semester. But the university urged students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to receive federal Pell Grants to fund the gap.

More than $44 million of that federal money went unused just last year, according to Nicklow.

"I think that's got to be a shift in our thinking at the state level," Dr. Nicklow said. "Not to be selfish, we have to go after everybody else's money first and especially if the feds put it on the table."

Time is running out for Louisiana's college students banking on the popular TOPS program. With the state's deficit hovering around $313 million for this fiscal year, lawmakers mostly fund TOPS for the current fall semester. But for the upcoming spring semester, the state cut TOPS by more than half to make up the difference.

"The prospect for any additional money to fill the hole in the TOPS money is just not going to happen," Gov. John Bel Edwards said. "It didn't have to be this way. There were a number of legislators who I think deluded themselves in believing that they had raised more revenue then the fiscal office told them and there would be more money coming in in revenue that they could then fill the tops hole before the spring semester hit. There really was no reason to believe that."

LSU sent out a letter to parents urging them the university would work with students who can't pay the difference up front.

"You can't just say no to all spending because there are something that a government needs to provide," State Representative for Kenner Julie Stokes said about the program's lack of funding.

She is urging her fellow legislators to make sure next school year will not have the same outcome.

"Talk to your legislators. Let them know how important it is that you get honest information. That you understand what is really going on in our state government and try to find straight forward solutions," she said. "In the end, it all washes out the same. We are all in a mess and this is a perfect illustration of that mess."

Northwestern State University in Natchitoches is the only university in the state absorbing the costs for students.

The state commissioner of higher education is expecting more students to opt out of next semester due to the shortfall.

The deadline to opt out for most universities is January 13th. Louisiana Tech University's opt out deadline is November 30th due to the school's quarter system.

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