By Kevin Shannahan
The upcoming college semester promises to be a financially trying one for students and their families throughout Louisiana as the funding for the popular Taylor Opprtunity Scholarship (TOPS) was drastically reduced to 41.08 percent of the full amount according to the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance, the agency charged with administering the program. While students at the state’s various colleges and universities will owe amounts ranging from $2,172 plus fees at LSU Baton Rouge to $1,447 at Southern University, students at Natchitoches’ Nothwestern State University will not be charged any of the non funded amount when they return for classes in January.
The situation is the result of the state’s contunuing budget woes. Faced with a budget deficit of over a billion dollars, the legislature did not fully fund TOPS for the first time in the program’s history. They “front loaded” the cuts, paying 93 percent of the full amount in the fall semester with the major cuts due in the upcoming one. Anticipated revenues did not amount to as much as hoped, meaning the cuts had to be implemented.
Dr. Jim Henderson, President of Northwestern State University and soon to be President of the University of Louisiana System, announced that NSU would protect current students from the cuts in TOPS funding by making up the difference. According to Dr. Henderson, the $3.5 million cost will come from money held back from an earlier tuition and fee increase and from what he termed “general philanthropic resources” such as the annual scholarship campaign. Dr. Henderson stated that the university had prepared for this eventuality ahead of time and had identified sources to cover the students’ lost TOPS funding.
Speaking of the students receiving TOPS at NSU, Dr. Henderson said, “We owe them the fulfillment of the promise of TOPS. They came to Northwestern State University on the promise of TOPS.”
Forcing the students to come up with the extra money would cause many of them to drop out or take on extra student loan debt, neither of which is good for the students of the university.