TOPS cut by more than 60 percent, students left reeling

TOPS cut by more than 60 percent, students left reeling
(Source: Theresa Schmidt KPLC)
(Source: McNeese)
(Source: McNeese)

SOUTHWEST LOUISIANA (KPLC) - Most students who receive TOPS have seen their financial assistance cut by more than half for the upcoming spring semester - leaving thousands of students statewide having to make up the difference with their own money.

With the state's deficit at $313 million for this fiscal year, legislators opted to only fully fund TOPS for the 2016 fall semester. But for the upcoming spring semester, the state cut TOPS financial assistance by more than half to make up the difference.

The numbers from the Louisiana Office of Financial Student Assistance revealed the bitter truth for students across the state, especially at McNeese State University and Sowela Technical Community College.

McNeese students saw cuts of more than $1,200, while Sowela students saw cuts of more than $800.

When the cuts were announced in mid-November, McNeese students were left scrambling to make up the difference.

A tearful Brooke Smith, 20, a McNeese student, said then she felt like a "promise was broken."

"I did good on my ACT; I did what I was supposed to do to be able to get this. I feel like, in a way, it was like an agreement that we made. You do your part and we'll do our part. So, I do feel betrayed because that is what was promised and it's like this is the good thing that's going to happen from you doing what you were supposed to do," she said.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement, earlier in November, that there will be no more cuts to TOPS.

"When we leave our kids with more student debt than necessary, we've failed them. Going forward, it is my hope that we can restore funding to TOPS because too many students across the state are dependent upon the assistance it offers. In fact, despite the budget shortfalls we're currently facing, we will not be making further cuts to this program. Today, we risk having an influx of students drop out of college or leave with burdensome debt. We can and must do better...The upcoming regular session in 2017 will give us another opportunity to stabilize Louisiana's budget and invest in our children's futures, and I'm asking the legislature to work with me, so that Louisiana's students are not left to shoulder the burden of our state's financial problems," he said.

McNeese has been working with students to help them defer some fees that are a result of previous cuts to TOPS. The spring semester begins Jan. 17.

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