Fears grow over LA higher ed funding during budget crisis

Fears grow over LA higher ed funding during budget crisis
LSU-Shreveport Chancellor Larry Clark hosting a budget briefing for staff, students
LSU-Shreveport Chancellor Larry Clark hosting a budget briefing for staff, students

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - While news that the state of Louisiana will resume partial TOPS payments next week came as relief for college students on Friday, future funding of that program remains in doubt.

LSU-Shreveport Chancellor Larry Clark held a briefing Friday afternoon on the state's budget crisis and what it means to higher education to staff members and a smattering of students.

It came on a day that began with the most uncertainty surrounding the TOPS Scholarship funding for in-state students. We caught up with LSU-S freshman student Lauren Washington, who recalled, "I know, my mom told me last night she saw it on Facebook that TOPS is over and I'm like, 'Noooooo!'"

But that obituary for TOPS turned out to be premature, at least through the end of the spring semester. The state announced the nearly $50,000 recipients of the scholarship money in Louisiana won't be affected because 80 percent of the funding will resume next week and colleges and universities will absorb the rest.

That 20 percent drop in TOPS payments will have a big impact on places like LSU-Shreveport, where 629 students are recipients of that scholarship. That will translate into a cut of $342,800 just for Spring semester, according to Chancellor Clark.

But for next school year, TOPS is only funded 25 percent, so far. That was part of the governor's plea to lawmakers in Thursday night's statewide televised address ahead of the special legislative session that starts in Baton Rouge on Sunday.

During that address, Edwards pleaded, "The Louisiana TOPS Scholarship Fund is now so depleted that if the legislature does not raise additional revenue, fewer high school students will receive awards and current recipients are in jeopardy of losing their existing scholarships for next year."

That cloud of uncertainty about next year hangs over the heads of many students at LSU-S, like Lauren Washington. "Well, it's like pretty much everyone here that I've talked to going to drop out, be a waitress for the rest of my life, why not?"

During Chancellor Clark's briefing to staff and students, he also addressed the other big issue facing higher education. He told the crowd, "There are some campuses that can't make payroll past March."

Governor Edwards also urged state lawmakers to approve all sorts of tax hikes during Thursday night's televised address.

Otherwise, Edwards warned that some campuses will be forced to declare financial bankruptcy, which would include massive layoffs and the cancellation of classes.

The governor concluded that if you are a student attending one of these colleges or universities that's forced to close, it means that you would receive a grade of incomplete.

Michael Hammons, a senior at LSU-S, hopes to graduate in December but lamented, "I don't know what this is going to mean for me as far as a career is concerned or what I would have to do?  Would I have to leave the state to be able to continue my education or what that may be. So, this has me very concerned."

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