College Dreams Dim Amidst Fears of Cuts to TOPS Program
Our students can’t afford to lose out on financial assistance for college because the state has a budget problem. The hope of a bright future is a huge deal for teens during their high school years and the ability to pay for higher education is a big piece of that. It’s no surprise, then, that worry has gripped students and parents alike, as well as educators, since hearing about a potential reduction to the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS program.
The Cowen Institute released a recent report, The Future of TOPS, which focuses on the risks that would accompany the loss of this financial assistance for Louisiana students.
Due to a state budget crisis, state legislators are currently debating dramatic changes to the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) Scholarship program. TOPS is the main scholarship program for Louisiana students who attend in-state, post-secondary institutions. If some or all of these changes are passed into law, a significant number of students would lose access to TOPS, both in New Orleans and statewide.
Understandably, someone has to take a loss in order to make up for the state’s financial deficit. But at the expense of the kids just about to graduate? That seems unwise and reason for all of us to explore alternative ways to make cuts.
I was fortunate enough to be a recipient of TOPS as a college student and in hindsight, I admit I probably didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have. I never worried about losing it so I wasn’t forced to reckon with how much I needed it. My opportunities as a professional woman of color exist in no small part because of the assistance I received to further my education.
I had big plans to make my mother proud, make a better life for myself, and be happy.
As an 18 year old preparing to graduate from Warren Easton Sr. Fundamental High School (now Warren Easton Charter High School), I saw college as my way out. Without it, I felt convinced that I would end up repeating the cycle of reliance on government assistance and low-paying jobs that my mom had experienced. I refused to let that happen.
Like many of the students with whom I work today, crime and poverty were the norm in my neighborhood too. I wanted a new normal for myself, just as I want that for ‘my kids’ at school. But for a lot of them, college seems like a far and an abstract concept, and hearing of the potential loss of financial help may just make the hope of higher education seem that much more out of reach. Changes to the TOPS program would be a huge hit to New Orleans students in particular.
The report goes on to explain:
The proposed changes would have similarly severe consequences for New Orleans’ students. If the ACT requirement was increased to 21, 23 percent fewer city students would be eligible for the Opportunity Award. Additionally, the change would disproportionately affect African-American students: in New Orleans, 32 percent fewer African-American students would be eligible compared to 16 percent of Caucasian students.
The GPA change would have a greater impact in New Orleans than statewide, with a 28 percent reduction in student eligibility. Raising the GPA requirement would greatly impact city students across all ethnic lines: 33 percent fewer Caucasian students and 26 percent fewer African-American students would be eligible. Private school students in New Orleans would be more adversely affected by the change than public school students, with 30 percent and 26 percent losing eligibility, respectively. The increase would reduce eligibility nearly equally across all income stratifications.
Through my lens as a former TOPS recipient and current school counselor, this is a frightening possibility. Preparation for college already feels to so many students and their parents like it is meant for other people — those who are wealthy or athletic scholarship worthy–but not for them. Navigating the new world of tuition, fees, housing is intimidating; doing it without the aid you expected is downright overwhelming. And demoralizing.
College preparation is the cornerstone of most high schools. We must do whatever we can to ensure that a decrease in TOPS funding is an absolute last resort in addressing the state’s budget crisis.
If you’d like to learn more or join the fight to protect TOPS for future students, I encourage you to do the following:
- Click here to read the full report from the Cowen Institute,
- Contact your local legislator to share concerns of TOPS being protected.
- Use hashtag #protectTOPS on social media to spread awareness.