Letter: Editorial’s TOPS facts not up to date

Most of our legislators are not slow learners. They have taken the time to read the 2014 ACT 1202 report prepared by the Regents staff based on data supplied by the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance. The data you quote in your editorial is old and based on very unlikely assumptions. Even so, where does the TOPS funding wind up in the appropriations process? The answer is in university budgets. No one mentions that a cut to TOPS will reduce demand and result in a reduction in enrollment, along with the associated cut to university budgets. Funding universities through the attendance of qualified students is a smart way to provide university funding. Recent history shows there are nearly 30,000 high school students per year working to obtain TOPS by taking the TOPS core and 18,000 of these students qualify for a TOPS award. Of these, more than 15,000 enroll in a Louisiana university. The TOPS students graduate and take much less time to do so. The funding is appropriated to LOSFA and distributed to the universities.

Your editorial quotes a figure of 44 percent losing their TOPS award with half of those occurring in the first year.

That fraction has been decreasing as the rigor of the TOPS core has increased. For the freshman class of 2009-2010, 37 percent lost their TOPS award and a fourth of those lost it for discontinuous enrollment. In other words, if they didn’t have the funds to continue and dropped out to work, they lost their TOPS award. Only 11 percent of the 2012-2013 freshman class lost their award in the first year. That is much less than half of 44 percent.

Finally, your figure of $387 million for the cost of TOPS in the 2018-19 school year assumes a 12 percent per-year increase in tuition over the next five years.

While the Legislature is not likely to continue the tuition increases of the past six years, the universities can certainly use the funds. The TOPS payment to LSU would go from $68 million to approximately $119 million. We can either go back to 1981 when the graduation rate at LSU was 31 percent or continue to increase the rate above the current rate of 70 percent, with another 15 percent graduating elsewhere. The choice should rest with those who get the true current facts about the TOPS program.

Jim Wharton

LSU chancellor emeritus

Baton Rouge