LBP Spurring Debate on TOPS

Posted by: Tim Mathis

The Louisiana Budget Project is spurring a statewide debate on TOPS, the state’s merit-based financed aid program.

On Sunday, The Times-Picayune in New Orleans published an article summarizing the recent report and highlighting our policy recommendations for “strengthening the academic requirements for TOPS, capping the program and increasing the Go Grant program that provides need-based scholarships to low-income students.”

Mark Ballard’s op-ed column in Sunday’s edition of The Advocate in Baton Rouge went further, calling “TOPS a bottomless money pit”:

TOPS pays tuition and some fees. When public universities raise tuition — and they have raised it about 15 percent over the past two years and most expect to go up another 10 percent this fall — the taxpayers get the bill, not the students receiving TOPS.

In terms of dollars spent, Louisiana’s TOPS is the fifth-most-expensive “merit” program in country, ranking behind larger states such as Florida and Georgia, even though colleges are cheaper here and priced significantly below the Southern average, the study showed.

The editorial concluded with an overview of recent efforts to reform the TOPS program. Several legislators have voiced their intentions to introduce bills in the upcoming session. However, such efforts face an uphill battle, because, according to Ballard, “many of the same well-to-do people who rail against government over-spending are the ones who whine the loudest about efforts to make TOPS more efficient, economical and fair.”

They include details about safety-net programs like Medicaid, tax credits for low-income workers and educational scholarships and help promote a better understanding of how safety-net programs affect different communities across our state.
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