Cuts to TOPS payments proposed in higher education review


BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s top higher education policymaking board is weighing proposals to cut TOPS payments, consolidate campus administrative functions and give more tuition-raising authority to school governing boards.

The recommendations are included in a draft report released Monday by Board of Regents staff. Those ideas come in response to a 2016 state law sponsored by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, requiring the board to conduct a “comprehensive review” of Louisiana’s higher education structure.

Among the most sweeping is a proposed reworking of the TOPS college tuition program. The suggestion would have lawmakers restructure TOPS starting with the freshman class of 2018. Freshman would get 80 percent of tuition covered, while sophomores would get 90 percent. Juniors and seniors would get the full 100 percent.

“I love the idea of scaling TOPS and rewarding those students who have already demonstrated that they can be successful at the university level,” Hewitt told The Advocate newspaper after the meeting.

That could lower costs for the state, but take a different approach than lawmakers used this year when they made across-the-board cuts to all students’ TOPS awards to shrink the program price tag.

In addition, the proposals would call for TOPS students to take 30 course hours a year to continue receiving the award, rather than the current 24 hours across two semesters.

Monday’s recommendations aren’t final — and most of the ideas in the 44-page draft, including the TOPS changes, would require legislative approval. The board is accepting public comments before deciding at its Feb. 22 meeting which proposals it will submit to lawmakers.

Other proposals up for consideration include:

—Creating a need-based grant program that requires a campus match.

—Establishing a process for businesses to underwrite the TOPS program or the GO Grant program that provides need-based aid to students. In exchange, the businesses would get naming rights for a certain length of time.

—Giving college systems the ability to raise tuition and fees within certain levels without needing legislative approval.

—Creating a local taxing authority to support community and technical colleges.

—Planning possible mergers of administrative functions, such as payroll and human resources in each of the four public college systems, rather than having each individual campus in the system performing such functions.

 

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