Chancellor's Views on TOPS
To: Students, Prospective Students and Parents
From: Michael Martin, LSU Chancellor
Many students and their parents are closely following the conversations that state leaders are having about the TOPS program.
However, it does not appear that TOPS will change for the upcoming year. While there has been much conversation at the Capitol about possible changes, Gov. Jindal has committed to protect TOPS from any changes in 2010. I also believe TOPS is a great program that should be protected. The evidence is clear: TOPS students succeed in college.
For those who don’t know, TOPS (Taylor Opportunity Program for Students) is a state program that helps pay for college for Louisiana’s qualified students. Some state leaders advocate changes in TOPS as a way to reduce costs to the state, especially in difficult financial times. Others believe TOPS should be converted to a need-based program. LSU disagrees.
LSU stands firmly behind the notion that performance should be rewarded. Students who performed well in high school have earned their TOPS awards, and have prepared themselves to be successful in college.
However, LSU is also sensitive to the students who require need-based aid. In fact, no Louisiana university puts as much funding to need-based aid as LSU, through programs such as LSU’s Pelican Promise. Last year, LSU awarded almost $5 million in need-based aid, and a total of $34 million in scholarships, which is one-third of all scholarships awarded by Louisiana universities and colleges. But TOPS was not created as a need-based program.
The TOPS program was inspired by the late Pat Taylor, an LSU alumnus, oilman, businessman and philanthropist from New Orleans. His vision was that if Louisiana’s children worked hard and made good grades in high school, the state would pay for them to attend college. His idea was to put a college education within reach of every child, to reward hard work in high school, and to keep the state’s best and brightest students here in Louisiana, both for college and for their careers. As a merit-based program, TOPS serves as an incentive for all these things.
While I understand that those who advocate for changes in TOPS have good intentions, I disagree with their premise. Primarily, those who want to change TOPS are concerned that the state can’t afford to maintain the program. I disagree. True, the TOPS program costs about $120 million a year, but that amount represents only 1.5 percent of the state’s $8 billion general-fund budget. In addition, the number of high school students in Louisiana is declining every year; therefore, the number of students eligible for TOPS is declining, so there should be very little growth in the cost of the program, even when taking into account tuition increases. For the foreseeable future, TOPS isn’t going to cost the state any more than it’s costing it now. And, of all the state’s programs, TOPS has one of the best performance outcomes of any of them. In terms of accomplishing what it is supposed to accomplish, TOPS is very efficient.
The state and the nation are facing tough economic times, but education is not the place to cut corners. Education improves lives, and leads to better jobs for individuals and a more prosperous economy overall. It also leads to innovation, new technologies and new solutions to medical, social and environmental problems. Indeed, education is where we should be investing our money, not cutting back.
I want to assure all members – current and future -- of the LSU community that I will do all I can to make my opinions on TOPS known to the state’s leaders as this discussion continues.