As the Louisiana Legislature’s regular session wraps up, three bills have or look likely to become law altering the nature of TOPS, which pays for tuition at Louisiana institutions of higher education for at least below-average scorers on standardized tests with at least decent high school marks having taken a certain core of courses. Together, these changes will delink tuition rates with payouts beginning next year unless the Legislature specifically authorizes full tuition coverage in the future, create higher standards to receive the highest awards that pay a few hundred dollars above tuition, and when not fully appropriated to fund all awards to give out partial awards to all qualifiers.
The last does nothing positive for the program except curtail waste. As typically over 40 percent in a cohort before graduating end up losing their awards – recipients must take at least 12 hours a semester, maintain a grade point average not much above the requirement to stay a student in good standing, and have only eight regular semesters of funding – most of this failure occurs in the lowest achievement bracket. Although detailed records remain unpublicized, from the public reports required by law the average winner scored a 24 on the American College Test while the average score of those with cancelled awards was under 23. So, the fewer dollars going into a wasteful program, the fewer that get wasted.