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University of Louisiana System Makes Its Case To House Appropriations

Wallis Watkins

University of Louisiana System Day at the Capitol Wednesday treated lawmakers and visitors alike to a performance by the Grambling State University band. But inside the building, officials and students from the nine-school system had serious concerns for the House Appropriations Committee. 

Erin Fernandez is the Student Body President at Southeastern University.

“HB 1 in its current form includes a cut of $18 million to higher education," which she says would amount to a cut of around $680,000 for Southeastern.

The bill outlining next fiscal year’s budget also includes an underfunded TOPS scholarship program. As it stands today, only 70 percent of TOPS is set to be funded.  It would take another $81 million to make the program whole.  Given the popularity of the scholarship, Governor Edwards is recommending it be fully funded if more revenue is realized.

TOPS is underfunded in the current budget as well. Representative Beryl Amedee (R-Houma) asked how students were responding to that.

John Pearce is the Student Body President at Northwestern State University. He says the uncertainty around TOPS encourages students to look at options outside of Louisiana.

“As funding is dissipating for TOPS and it’s just becoming a bleak reality that you have to take on more and more loans, why not go somewhere else?”

Some reforms are being considered to make TOPS more affordable for the state. Representative Pat Smith (D-Baton Rouge) supports requiring TOPS students to complete thirty hours per year, instead of the current twelve hours per semester.

“We have to begin to rethink how do we get students on time, graduating in four years?” she says.

Two bills this session aim to eventually raise the GPA requirement to qualify for the scholarship from a 2.5 to a 3.0.

On Thursday, the Senate Education committee will take a look at two other bills concerning TOPS adjustments.