Letter: Former LSU chancellor on TOPS

In a recent editorial The Advocate cited research by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber on TOPS and tuition. The editorial will at best misinform students, parents and taxpayers.

TOPS is not a tuition waiver. The payment is made by the state consistent with the requirements of the program and the agreement signed by the parent when the student enters the ninth grade. The BRAC study says that “Louisiana is incurring costs for two out of five TOPS recipients who do not graduate.” That statement is based on incomplete data. Whether or not they graduated somewhere else or whether Louisiana paid for a student is unknown.

To illustrate this point, the LSU registrar and I decided to find out as best we could what happened to TOPS students who entered LSU in 2004 and later years. In 2004, there were 4,365 TOPS students who entered LSU as freshmen. A total of 3,070 (70 percent) of these students graduated from LSU. Of the 1,295 (30 percent) who did not graduate, the National Student Clearing House found 669 (15.3 percent) graduated from some 86 other institutions for a total known graduation rate of 85.3 percent.

What happened to the remaining 14.7 percent is unknown, but you can safely bet that some of them graduated (women under another name). Finally, the LSU findings will be similar for TOPS students who enter other public four-year Louisiana institutions.

The standards for TOPS have always been higher (including this year’s graduating class) than those for the Georgia HOPE scholarship but not as high as the standards of Florida’s Bright Futures program. The Georgia and Florida programs are far more costly than TOPS.

The BRAC study uses state comparisons of net tuition, but its report reads as if resident tuition and net tuition are the same.

Some states (Delaware for example) require public universities to charge nonresidents the full cost of their education. These states appropriate no funding for nonresidents. Other states, Louisiana for example, allow the management boards to set nonresidents tuition and also appropriate funding for the nonresident students.

As an example, the BRAC report says “The highest ranking Southern state (Delaware) generates almost four times as much revenue from tuition and fees as Louisiana.” Nonresident tuition at the University of Delaware is $28,772 and nonresident students make up 60 percent of their enrollment.

Louisiana institutions typically have low nonresident enrollments. There is a huge difference between net tuition and resident tuition in Delaware but in Louisiana net tuition and resident tuition are almost the same. Had BRAC used resident tuition comparisons only, the tuition difference between Louisiana and other SREB states would not have been as great.

BRAC’s recommended 26 ACT composite for TOPS would eliminate 80 percent of the current TOPS students.

James Wharton

retired chancellor LSU

Baton Rouge