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Budget Uncertainty Continues For Higher Education In Louisiana

Campus of Louisiana State University

The state legislature couldn't figure out a way to solve the budget shortfall for next fiscal year. That leaves Louisiana’s universities — and students on TOPS scholarships — wondering how to pay for school. An answer isn't likely to come before June.

Right now, the state's colleges are facing a proposed cut of more than $250 million.

Joseph Rallo is the head of higher education in Louisiana, a system where budget cuts are nothing new.

"Because the state has basically not given the amount of money they use to give, increasingly now, institutions are dependent on tuition," he explains.

While that raises the price tag for students and families, it makes the institutions a bit more resilient against state budget cuts.

But the vast majority of this $250 million cut would be made to TOPS, the scholarship program that helps cover tuition.

Rallo says if funding for TOPS is uncertain, it could lead students to consider options outside of Louisiana.

"If you're a TOPS student and you don't know if TOPS is gonna be there," he says, "you may not enroll, whether it's LSU, McNeese or Southern. And because those students are maybe not enrolling, that's less tuition dollars to those campuses. That's gonna be the real impact."

There are just over 50,000 students in Louisiana on a TOPS scholarship. The budget uncertainty puts both students and schools in a sort of limbo.

"If I'm sitting there trying to decide, 'OK, how many classes can I offer?' The first thing I have to ask is how many students am I going to have.  So it's not just uncertainty for the students," he points out, "it’s uncertainty for the universities who increasingly are depending on tuition dollars, and they don’t know if those students are going to be there."

Under the Governor's budget proposal — which by law, has to be balanced — TOPS would lose all of its state funding for next year. That’s an 80-percent cut to the program.