Home News-Free State officials talk about TOPS scholarship participation throughout the state

State officials talk about TOPS scholarship participation throughout the state

By Gabby Jimenez
LSU Manship School News Service

State officials are trying to figure out how to remedy a decline in TOPS
scholarship participation throughout the state.

The Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, known as TOPS, is a merit-based scholarship
funded by the state. The program offers scholarships to Louisiana residents attending public
colleges, universities or vocational schools in the state.

Kim Hunter Reed, Louisiana’s commissioner on higher education, spoke to the House
Committee on Appropriations Thursday about the declining participation numbers.

As the number of high school graduates in the state has declined, so has the number of eligible
TOPS recipients, Reed said. Acceptance rates for TOPS scholarship have also seen a decline, she

For those who were eligible and did not use TOPS last year, 12.9% of the students missed the
one-year deadline to accept their TOPS scholarship, according to Reed, and 56.8% enrolled at a
school part-time. TOPS does not cover part-time enrollment.

Fourteen percent of the eligible students enrolled at a school out of state, Reed said. But 15% of
students, or 8,000 TOPS eligible students, did not go anywhere.

“They’re not in the national database,” Reed said. “They’re not in our state’s database. And so we
have to continue to ask the question: What is happening in terms of talent development? And
how do we reach these students?”

Reed said the declining participation is particularly concerning due to the large number of
students who are eligible for the scholarships but still choose to not use it.

Rep. Debbie Villio, R-Kenner, asked if the declining numbers were correlated to a lack of face-
to-face instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Reed and Sujuan Boutté, executive director for the Louisiana Office of Student
Financial Assistance, there has been a continuous decline in participation since before the
pandemic started.

Among the various types of awards, Boutté said, the TOPS Tech award, which provides
scholarships for students to attend a vocational or technical school, has the highest percentage of
eligible recipients not appearing on records. The percentage of students not showing up on
records decreases as the requirements for each scholarship increases, which Boutté attributed to
students’ preparedness to attend a post-secondary institution.

“Where we’re checking is – did those students go straight to work? … We are seeing those
greater trends for those that were enrolled part-time, those that missed the deadline. Those are
your most affected students,” Boutté said.

Other states are luring TOPS eligible students with incentives like bigger scholarships and better
financial aid, Reed noted.

Reed emphasized the importance of communication and outreach, especially in high school, to
ensure students are aware of the program.

“We’ve got to meet students where they are, and make sure that they know that there are
opportunities for them to pursue education,” Reed said.

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