The task force charged with reviewing the TOPS scholarship program held its first meeting Wednesday at the Capitol.
Chairman Blade Morrish, a senator from Jennings, says the goal is to review the role of the scholarship program, its original purpose "and determine ways to ensure the program’s long term viability.”
The legislature under-funded the scholarship program last school year, leaving students and their families to make up the difference in tuition.
Sujuan Boutte is the executive director of the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance. She says over 350 bills have been presented in the Legislature to make changes to TOPS since it began in 1989.
Of those 350 bills, 75 have been passed and made into law. Boutte says in general, those changes have made more students eligible for the scholarship.
“Historically," she says, "there have not been a lot of changes made to restrict or limit the program.”
And as the number of students receiving the scholarship has increased, so has tuition.
“If a program covers tuition and tuition increases, then the cost of the program is going to increase," Boutte explains.
TOPS costs $291 million this school year. Originally created by Patrick Taylor, the scholarships have always been based on merit, according to Dr. James Caillier, Executive Director of the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, "but it was focused primarily on low-to-moderate income kids.”
Caillier says in one important way, it has achieved its original purpose.
“The purpose was really not to have incentive for students to be in college. The intent was to prepare kids for college success," he says.
According to Wednesday’s testimony, 81percent of TOPS students have either completed a degree or are still enrolled since its inception.